UK, HC, “British North America Bill”, vol 462 (1949), cols 371-473
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “British North America Bill“, vol 462 (1949), cols 371-473.
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Order for Second Reading read.
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) I have it in Command from His Majesty to acquaint the House that he places his prerogative and interests so far as concerns the matters dealt with by this Bill at the disposal of Parliament.
I beg to move, “That this Bill be now read a Second time.”
The purpose of the Bill is to give the force of law to the Terms of Union agreed upon by the representatives of Canada and Newfoundland. As the Preamble shows, these Terms have been approved by the Parliament of Canada and by the Government of Newfoundland. The Canadian Parliament have submitted an Address to His Majesty praying that a Bill to confirm them may be laid before our Parliament here. The Terms of Union are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. Under these terms, Newfoundland will become a province of Canada, with representation in the Senate and the House of Commons of the Dominion, and with its own Provincial Legislature. At the date of Union, the Newfoundland Constitution, as it existed in 1933, will be revised, with two changes. First, there will be a Lieutenant-Governor instead of a Governor; and the Legislative Council, that is to say, the Upper Chamber, will disappear, unless the province otherwise decides.
Term 15 provides for the first election of the Provincial Legislature, and for the extension of the franchise to include women over 21. Under the Terms, financial measures are laid down and grants are provided by Canada to enable Newfoundland to adjust itself to the status of a province and to develop services that will give it revenue. Term 29 provides that, within eight years, a Royal Commission will review the financial position of the province, and will recommend whether further financial assistance will be required.
Clause 2 of the Bill repeals the Newfoundland Act of 1933, by which the present Commission of Government was 372 set up, but Section 3 of that Act is still to stand; it provides our Treasury guarantee for the existing 3 per cent. stock of Newfoundland. The guarantee, of course, continues, but, by the Terms of Union, Canada will service and amortise the Ioan. That, in the barest outline, is the Bill, and, at the risk of wearying the House with facts with which it is familiar, I shall recount the events which have led to its production.
Before I do so, may I say that it affects the future government of the oldest overseas community in the British Commonwealth. It concerns the future happiness of a people who have always been joined to us by the closest ties of history, interest and friendship; who, by racial origin, are more than 98 per cent. British; people who are bound to us by common loyalty to His Majesty the King; and who, through the centuries have stood with us in fair weather and in storm; and whose outstanding contributions to our common cause in the recent war are still burning warmly in our hearts and minds.
I know that every hon. Member desires that full justice should be done to such gallant and devoted friends, but I know that some hon. Members have some doubts about this Bill, that they regard it with apprehension, and that they view with misgiving the method by which the policy of confederation with Canada is being carried through. I have tried to give very close attention to everything which they have said and written. I have done so, I hope, with an open mind. I am left with the conviction that they have misunderstood what it is that we have done. I hope to persuade them this afternoon that that is true, and that, in consequence, our Debate will bring the House to accept the Bill by general agreement and without a single adverse vote.
I have a narrowly restricted task in this Debate. I have not to argue the merits of confederation—whether union with Canada will be good for Newfoundland, whether Canada’s terms are generous or not, whether it would have been better for the Newfoundlanders if responsible government, Dominion independence, had been restored. All that was for Newfoundland and Canada to settle, and it was not for me—it is not for me today—to intervene. My task is to present to the House the agreement which Newfoundland and Canada have made, to 373 explain how that agreement was arrived at, to justify the action of our Government in the matter, and to ask the House to give the agreement the force of law.
I come now to an outline sketch of the events which have produced this Bill. In 1933, owing to fishing failures, the world slump and other causes, the Newfoundland Government found itself in financial difficulties of the gravest kind. Its Budget had not been balanced for 14 years; it could hardly carry on. It therefore asked the Government of the United Kingdom to give help. The Government of the United Kingdom set up a Royal Commission, which proposed that the Constitution of Newfoundland should be suspended and that the island should be governed by a Commission of six appointed members, three of them from Newfoundland, under the chairmanship of the Governor. The Legislature of Newfoundland accepted this proposal; at their request, this Parliament passed the Newfoundland Act of 1933, and the island has been governed under that Act until today.
But the war brought new prosperity to Newfoundland. In 1942, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, then Secretary of State for the Dominions, visited the island, and an informal Parliamentary Goodwill Mission made a tour in the summer of 1943. They were all agreed that the future form of government must be reconsidered when the war was over. Suggestions were put forward that, if Newfoundland was self-supporting, a National Convention to consider the future form of government should be set up, a referendum was suggested and so on. When the war was over, the present Government of this country took up this suggestion and gave it concrete form. They announced in December, 1945, amid congratulations from all quarters of the House, that a National Convention would be elected in the following year, and that its mandate would be to consider the economic and financial situation of the island, and the possible forms, not a single form, of future government which might be submitted to the people in a referendum. That plan was carried out.
The Convention met in September, 1946; in May, 1947, it sent a delegation of its members to London, and it sent another delegation to Ottawa. This second delegation spent some months 374 negotiating with the Canadian Government on the terms on which a union with Canada might be carried through. In November of that year, the Canadian Government sent the terms which it proposed to the Convention, but in January—13 months ago—the Convention recommended to the Government that two forms of government only should be laid before the people in the referendum—first, the continuation of the Commission for a period, and, secondly, the restoration of the responsible Government which had existed in 1933.
A few weeks later, our Government here, which, of course, had final responsibility in the matter, decided that a third alternative, namely, Confederation with Canada, which the Convention had rejected, should be included in the Referendum. I shall explain our reasons for that decision in a moment. When we announced it on 2nd March, 1948, three months before the Referendum, we made it absolutely plain—and this is important —what the method for carrying through Confederation was going to be if it were accepted. In my dispatch, I said: His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom appreciate that there has been a feeling amongst some members of the Convention that the entry of Newfoundland into a Confederation with Canada should only be arranged after direct negotiations between a local responsible Government and the Canadian Government. The terms offered by the Canadian Government represent, however, the result of a long discussion with a body of Newfoundlanders who were elected to the Convention, and the issues involved appear to have been sufficiently clarified to enable the people of Newfoundland to express an opinion as to whether Union with Canada would commend itself to them. The method proposed, therefore—and it is with the method that I know many hon. Members are now concerned—was made absolutely clear a long time before the vote was taken. Three months later, in June, 1948, these three forms of Government were submitted to the people with the following result—I am giving the figures to the nearest thousand: for the Commission 22,000; for Confederation 64,000; for Responsible Government 69,000. As no form of Government received a majority over the other two combined, a further Referendum was held on 22nd July to decide between Confederation and Responsible Government. The result was this: for Responsible Government 71,000; for Confederation 78,000. 375 Of the former electoral districts, 18 out of 25 voted for Confederation, seven for Responsible Government.
In the light of this result, the Canadian Government, with our agreement, proceeded to make formal arrangements for carrying union through. They invited a delegation to come to Ottawa to negotiate the final terms; they made further substantial concessions to the views and wishes of Newfoundland; they cleared up various misunderstandings which there had been at the time of the Referendum; and, at length, on 11th December, the terms were signed. Last month, the Canadian Parliament passed the necessary legislation, and now they and the Government of Newfoundland have asked that our Parliament shall do the same. If we agree, if this Bill passes, union with Canada will be effected on the last day of this month when the new financial year begins.
The practical and administrative preparations for the union are far advanced, and there must be compelling reasons if we are now to halt our legislation and to change our course. On what grounds have we been asked to do so? First, let me deal with one point which I have mentioned, and which may have troubled hon. Members. Why did the Government of the United Kingdom insert the third alternative, Confederation with Canada, in the Referendum when the National Convention had decided not to do so? I want it to be absolutely clear that it was we, this Government, and not the Commission of Government who decided on that insertion. Our reasons for doing so were published just a year ago today. What were they? The vote in the National Convention for the exclusion of confederation had been 29 to 16.
In other words, there was a strong section of the Convention strongly supported outside which wished confederation to be included. We felt that by the insertion of confederation we were in no way prejudicing the ultimate decision, but we felt that it would be wrong to refuse the wish of so large a section who desired that third alternative should be voted on. We felt that if we did exclude it, we should, in effect, be disenfranchising a large number of electors. The event has proved that we should, in fact, have disenfranchised more than half, and I 376 am sure that, in the light of the result of the Referendum, the House will think that we did right.
There is another point which I know has troubled some hon. Members. It is thought that the Government ought not to bring in legislation while an appeal on this very matter is before the Privy Council. Last November, six Newfoundlanders brought an action in a Newfoundland court in which they claimed that union with Canada should not, on legal grounds, be carried through. The action was dismissed by the Court of First Instance in Newfoundland, and an appeal to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland was likewise dismissed, and dismissed without the Attorney-General being asked to argue the case for the Government. A further appeal has now been made to the Privy Council, but I understand that it cannot be heard until after 31st March when, if this Bill is passed, union with Canada will take place.
I quite agree that, in the normal way, it would be undesirable to bring in legislation on a matter which is the subject of litigation in the courts. But I am advised that there may be cases where the public interest demands that Parliament should proceed, and I submit that this Bill is a case in point. Parliament, of course, must examine the circumstances of the matter and must then decide, in its supreme authority, to do what it judges to be right. What are the circumstances here? If we waited until this appeal were heard, union could not be carried through on the appointed day. Confusion would certainly result, and public interest, above all in Newfoundland, would greatly suffer. It is, therefore, undesirable to postpone the date of union, the more so since I am advised that this appeal to the Privy Council cannot really affect the issue.
Of course, it would be wholly wrong for me now to prejudge the various matters in the statement of claim, but I think I should try to show the House that I am right when I say that the result of this appeal could not possibly affect the issue. The main claims in this action may be summarised in the following way. First, we are inviting Parliament, by this Bill, to effect the union of Newfoundland with Canada by a new United Kingdom Act. This Parliament, it is said, cannot make law for Newfoundland except at 377 the request of an elected Legislature. Secondly, it is claimed that the acts of the Commission in Newfoundland leading to the Referendum were in law invalid.
On the first point, it is enough for me to say, what every hon. Member will agree, that the advice of the Privy Council could not affect the right of Parliament here to legislate as it thinks fit. Moreover, the Legislature of Newfoundland had never adopted the optional provisions of the Statute of Westminster. On the second main claim, namely that the acts of the Commission of Government were invalid, I will only quote the Judge of the Court of Newfoundland. He said: The action is based on fundamental errors of law and logic which are apparent on the face of the papers, and which are fatal to it … Logically, legally and practically, it seems to me to be nonsense. I repeat, even if the Privy Council were to advise that this judgment itself was nonsense, even if the Privy Council decided that on the existing law the Newfoundland courts were wrong and the claimants right on every point, that ought not to deter Parliament on new legislation from doing what is right for Newfoundland. We have sought, by a fair and democratic process, to ascertain the views of the people of Newfoundland; we are asking Parliament to give effect to their wishes and we think the public interest must now prevail.
Another ground of objection arises from the British North America Act of 1867. That Act provides, in Section 146, machinery by which, on an Address from the Legislatures of Newfoundland and Canada, Newfoundland may enter the Confederation. It has been argued that union can be effected only by that means. I am advised that that view is wrong. Section 146 of the British North America Act did not exclude, could not have excluded, the possibility that Newfoundland should enter Canada by other lawful means. It simply provided that incorporation might be effected by Order in Council made by the King in exercise of his prerogative on the advice of his Ministers in the United Kingdom. Of course, if that procedure had been adopted it would have avoided the need for legislation. We should not be debating this Bill today. But clearly that procedure is not applicable to the present factual situation in Newfoundland; and 378 the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. St. Laurent, has argued in his House of Commons that it is not appropriate to the present constitutional position of his country, because the King in respect of Canada now exercises his prerogative not on the advice of his Ministers in the United Kingdom but on the advice of his Ministers in Canada alone. Therefore, I think the British North’ America Act of 1867 need not delay us any further now.
What about the Newfoundland Act of 1933—our Act by which the Commission was set up? It has been said that by that Act we made a pledge to restore self-government as it then existed when Newfoundland had overcome its trouble and was once more self-supporting. It is said that this Bill, if passed, would violate that pledge. That argument all turns on the meaning of the Extract from the Royal Commission’s Report which appears in the Schedule to the Act of 1933. The first paragraph of that Extract numbered (a), reads as follows: The existing form of Government would be suspended until such time as the Island may become self-supporting again. If hon. Members examine that, they will see that if it stood alone there would be a strong case for saying that when the Island was self-supporting the form of Government which had existed in 1933 must be restored and that no other alternative was open. But paragraph (a) does not stand alone. The Extract continues down to, paragraph (g), which reads as follows: It would he understood that, as soon as the Island’s difficulties are overcome and the country is again self-supporting, responsible government, on request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored. The words “on request” are vital. The old form of Government is only to be restored if there has been a request from the people of Newfoundland. It is plain that if there is no such request something different could be done—otherwise the Commission of Government would have to go on for ever, which I submit is absurd.
Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green) Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there was no system by which the people could make that request and by which they could make their views known?
Mr. Noel-Baker That is why, on the original proposals of the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) 379 the system for Referendum was devised, the system of the National Convention and the Referendum.
Mr. Gammans (Hornsey) Was not such a request for restoration of responsible Government made by the National Convention?
Mr. Noel-Baker It was on request from the people and, of course, unless it meant “from the people” there was no sense in putting in “on request.” If they intended simply to restore responsible government they would have said so. I submit that it is plain that if there is no such request something different could be done. How could the people make their request? That is the question which has so rightly been asked. As I said, it was proposed in this House as early as 1943—I think I am right—that it should be by Referendum. The present Government proposed that in December, 1945, and it was welcomed on every side.
Well, there have been two Referenda, two chances for the people of Newfoundland to request that the old form of responsible Government should be restored. On both occasions only a minority of the people answered “Yes.” In other words, the people have made no request for responsible Government and, therefore, under the terms of our Act of 1933 it is not open to us to do what the hon. Gentleman the junior Burgess for Oxford University now desires.
Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington) In the first Referendum, surely if we take the second and third items there was a majority in favour of responsible Government of 5,334?
Mr. Noel-Baker I do not follow that argument. The figures were 22,000 for the Commission, 64,000 for Confederation and 69,000 for Responsible Government. There was no majority.
Sir W. Smithers I was leaving out the figures for the Commission and taking the two votes for or against Confederation.
Mr. Noel-Baker That did not prevail. It was decided, and no one ever contested that it was right, that as there was no absolute majority of those who voted there should be a second Referendum.
Sir W. Smithers Then you put in Confederation?
Mr. Noel-Baker No. We put it in long before.
I pass now to another and, as I think, a more important point. Hon. Members may think—indeed the Amendment on the Order Paper shows that they do think so—that even if this Bill is right in law the methods adopted have been undemocratic. Is that really so? I am trying to face all the points which are in the minds of hon. Members. The National Convention was chosen in 1946 by popular election. It chose, on its own authority from among its members, by free election the delegates who went to Canada to discuss Confederation. They were not our nominees. The Terms of Union on which those delegates agreed with the Government of Canada were promptly published.
Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University) May I correct the right hon. Gentleman, as I believe there is a slight inaccuracy in that statement? I think the delegates had no authority to negotiate. What the right hon. Gentleman has called the Terms were the proposals of Mr. Mackenzie King. I think the delegates were not allowed to negotiate.
Mr. Noel-Baker Technically, that is perfectly correct. I apologise to the hon. Member. There was discussion about the kind of terms which would suit the delegation on the one hand and the Government of Canada on the other, and after the discussions were over the Canadian Government put up proposals which they thought were sound and just, and it was on those proposals that the vote was taken. It is said in the Amendment on the Paper that while those terms were debated in Canada for a fortnight they were not debated in Newfoundland at all.
Sir A. Herbert They are in the Bill.
Mr. Noel-Baker They are better, of course—better for Newfoundland. The original terms were debated in the National Convention clause by clause for several weeks, and the Debates were broadcast—every minute of them—to the people of Newfoundland who had to vote.
Sir A. Herbert They were rejected.
Mr. Noel-Baker There was, as I have shown, for months before the Referendum 381 no shadow of doubt about the method by which Confederation, if accepted, would be carried through. It was after all this preparation, after all this meticulous—I might almost say passionate—popular debate that the people of Newfoundland gave a majority for Confederation. I hope the House will endorse the view which the Government hold, that the method, like the result and like the future form of government in Newfoundland, is wholly democratic in every way.
For the reasons I have recited I hope the House will pass the Bill. If it does so, the work of the Commission of Government will shortly end. I think it would be right if I said a few words of appreciation of what it has done. it took over in 1934 when things were very bad. The Government of Newfoundland had done their best within their limited resources, and under the blows of bad fishing seasons and the world slump, to provide a good administration. Since 1934, in more favourable economic circumstances, the Commission has made good progress in many ways. Hospitals have been increased, clinics have been set up, the incidence of tuberculosis has shown a marked decline, free and compulsory education has been introduced, the fishing industry has been greatly helped—in particular by the Fisheries Board. As it ends its labours I know the House would want me to express our gratitude to the Commission and to all its members, whether from this country or from Newfoundland for what they have done.
But the Commission was only a temporary device. It was plain that it could not indefinitely endure. We have sought—it has been our only purpose—to find out what system the people of Newfoundland themselves desired to take its place. We have done so, by methods which, until quite lately, seemed to command the full approval of all hon. Members of this House; by methods which we think are right in law and which are wholly democratic. May this Bill bring added strength to Canada, and happiness, prosperity and progress to the gallant and generous people of Newfoundland.
Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West) As I take it, and as, indeed, the Secretary 382 of State said in his speech, we today are in a rather unusual position. It is not our business, as it is on common occasions in this House, to express our opinion as to the merits or demerits of the proposal. Our sole task is to determine whether, in passing this Bill, we are carrying out the express will of the two peoples concerned, those of Canada and of Newfoundland. With regard to the people of Canada, there is, I think, no dispute. No suggestion has been made that any other method could have been adopted of ascertaining the popular view than that which has been adopted, and that popular view has been expressed with decision.
I wish I could say that the case with regard to the people of Newfoundland was equally clear. On an occasion such as this I wish it were possible for all to agree upon the course of action. But, of course, the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) shows that today that is not the case. I fully appreciate the motives which have led my hon. Friend and my other hon. Friends to put this Amendment on the Paper. In doing it they are not expressing just their own view. It is not their personal idiosyncracy that some other course would be best for the people of Newfoundland. They are, unfortunately, expressing what we know is the feeling of a substantial part of the people of Newfoundland. It is, indeed, unfortunate that whatever be the rights or wrongs—I propose to make my own position quite clear—this Federation, if it takes place, when it takes place, should leave behind it feelings of bitterness, which, alas, at the present moment it threatens to do.
The responsibility of His Majesty’s Government over the last few years, and of the Commission of Government acting under their authority, was not to press this or that remedy, not to try to get this or that constitutional proposal adopted in Newfoundland. It was to ascertain, objectively and in a judicial fashion, the will of the people, in order that we in this House might subsequently act upon that will. What we have to do today is to inquire whether, in fact, His Majesty’s Government have carried out that duty laid upon them, and how they have done it. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech went back some considerable period of time, and he dealt very 383 fully with a number of arguments that have arisen over various Acts of Parliament, some dating back as far as 1867. I do not intend to go back any distance at all. I want to go back only to March of last year, because that, frankly, to me seems to be the determining factor.
If hon. Gentlemen have refreshed their memories of the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State on 15th March of last year, they will have seen set out in full the despatch sent to the Governor of Newfoundland, in which, in the clearest detail, is set out the procedure which the Government meant to adopt in order to ascertain the popular will, and which, in fact—I think nobody questions it—they subsequently did adopt. They stated quite clearly that they intended to proceed by means of a Referendum. They made it quite plain that in that Referendum was to be included the question of federation with Canada, and they made it quite clear that if, on the first Referendum, there was no over-all majority for any of the three alternatives, then the one that received the least number of votes would be dropped, and a second Referendum would be taken on the other two questions.
That is exactly the procedure which was subsequently adopted, and exactly the procedure about which certain sections of the people of Newfoundland now complain, and which has given rise to the undoubted feelings which now exist. It is only fair to point out that although these clearly defined terms were made public both in this country and in Newfoundland in March of last year—certainly over here, and I think I am right in saying in Newfoundland as well—no objections were then taken such as are now being taken to that procedure.
It fell to my lot as being connected with these affairs to consider from my own point of view, the statement of the Government, and I saw—and I can still see—nothing in their proposals that was repugnant to justice. It was a method, and a fair method, of ascertaining the will of the people. I quite agree that another method equally fair would have been to restore the Commission Government after further elections and to have let the elected majority decide; but, as I say, there was nothing that seemed to me repugnant from the point of view of 384 justice, although, quite naturally, had I been in receipt of the sort of objection which at a much later date I received from people of Newfoundland, and which other hon. Members on both sides of the House received, all of us, without any party differences, anxious only to meet the will of the people of Newfoundland, would have looked at the matter again; and, no doubt, the Government would also have been prepared to do so. But the fact is that, so far as I can make out, no real complaints were raised against this method in Newfoundland until certainly after the result of the first Referendum, and I am not sure that it was not until after the result of the second Referendum.
Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater) Since we were definitely pledged to restore self-government to Newfoundland when they became solvent, which they did during the war, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the right thing to do was to restore self-government and, through that method, let them find out what they wanted to do with their future?
Mr. Stanley My hon. Friend rather begs the question. He assumes that we were definitely pledged to restore self-government. The right hon. Gentleman showed the qualification that existed in a subsequent Clause; but my answer to that would be that if my hon. Friend last March had put that question to me and had said, “Do you not think that even if this method is logical but unconstitutional, it is unwise, because it is not going to meet the wishes of the people of Newfoundland?” Then certainly I would have said, “Let us try together to find out which way suits them best.” My difficulty is that that was not done. In fact, the method selected by the Government was allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion, and it was only then that objection was taken.
It is clear that a difficulty has arisen—and I am not saying it in any deprecating way about either side—as difficulty was likely to arise, because of the narrowness of the vote. If there had been a big majority one way or the other, then, no doubt, the successful opponents would have accepted the decision. All of us understand the feelings of people who may have very strong views on a matter which is going to affect the whole 385 of their future when they find that a decision adverse to them is to be implemented on a majority as small as this one.
Frankly, I put to myself the question whether at this stage it would not have been wise on the part of the Government to make assurance doubly sure—although I do not for one moment claim that there was any legal liability on them to do so—when they began to find the existence of this bitter opposition—a bitter opposition which might do great damage to the future relationship of Newfoundland and Canada and, incidentally, to the future relationship of this country and the Canada of which Newfoundland will form part—and to have restored the method of ordinary elections by district and the final decision by the population. I do not think for one moment that in not adopting that course we are entitled to blame them. They did set out quite clearly the course which they intended to adopt, and they have not deviated at all from it. I am only showing that the decisions which all of us wish could have been avoided, might possibly have been avoided by that method.
I also say that they could only have been avoided by that method. We had no assurance that in fact the opposition would really be any less from those who oppose federation if, instead of federation coming about because of a 6,000 majority on a popular vote, it came about as a result of a majority of two or three in a popularly elected assembly. I am doubtful myself whether in fact the feeling would have been much less. One cannot entirely ignore the other side. Even if by this method one had to some extent reduced the bitterness of those who oppose federation, might there not have been a very great danger of arousing bitterness if those who were in favour of federation, and who, having seen their case victorious, although by a small majority under the proposals which the Government laid down and which apparently everyone had accepted, had been suddenly faced with another challenge under a wholly new proposal. I do not claim to judge whether it might. not have been a wise thing for the Government to do; to have taken a risk and to have attempted to allay this bitterness. Certainly I say that even if His Majesty’s Government may have been 386 unwise, in my view in this matter they certainly have not been unfair. They certainly gave every opportunity for objection to be taken to the course they proposed with complete clarity, and that objection, so far as I can see, was never taken.
Now we are faced with a wholly different situation. The terms of federation have been offered, they have been discussed and they have been agreed to, with, I think, one exception, by the representatives of Newfoundland in Ottawa. It would certainly be, in my view, a very big responsibility for this House now, in these circumstances, to reject the proposals which are made by Canada which come from Newfoundland under the circumstances with which we are all now familiar. A rejection from this House might lead to Canada withdrawing altogether from the proposal. It certainly might cause great feeling in Canada as to the extent of the interference exercised by this House of Commons with Canadian affairs against the wishes of the people of Canada.
As to the effect on Newfoundland, it would, after all, mean that this House decided to accept the view of the minority rather than of the majority. It may be very small one way or the other; but in fact there was a definite majority on one side, and if we were to reject this Bill now it would mean that we had decided that the minority view should prevail. I cannot help feeling that that might lead on the other side, in Newfoundland, to just as much bitterness and just as much resentment; and, if I may say so, much more justifiable resentment and bitterness than is now felt by the opponents of the scheme. Therefore, as far as I myself am concerned, and as far as this aspect of the case is concerned, I feel that I could not take the responsibility of objecting to this measure or of advising my hon. Friends to reject it, although I realise that there are many who feel deeply on this question, and who in a matter of this kind will naturally follow the dictates of their consciences.
Before concluding I should like to refer to what is a comparatively new element in the case, and the one which, frankly, has caused me and some of my hon. Friends much the greatest concern, and that is the new factor of the appeal to the Privy Council. I dislike a position 387 in which this House is legislating on a matter which is the subject of an appeal to the Privy Council. I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s advice to the House—it is the same advice as has been tendered to me by other lawyers—that constitutionally, legally, there is no objection, that this House is a sovereign assembly, and from the purely constitutional point of view the fact that the appeal is pending makes no difference whatsoever to our power. But if that is the constitutional point of view, there is of course a moral point of view as well, and we cannot dismiss from our minds the position we should be in if in the exercise, and the proper exercise, of our powers we pass this Bill and then find that the appeal is allowed by the Privy Council. It would, I think, be a serious position.
Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby) Can the position arise if this Bill is passed?
Mr. Stanley Certainly. The learned Attorney-General will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it true to say that the passage of this Bill would not affect the rights of the appellant on the particular case he is bringing to the Privy Council; the case could go on irrespective of what happened to this Bill. I think we should all feel that the House would be in a very difficult position if, having passed the Bill, we then found an adverse opinion in the Judicial Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, while disclaiming any intention of prejudging the issue in the case, has not unskilfully conveyed to the House an impression that this case is unlikely to succeed. Indeed, that is my view. But can we depend upon that? Is that really quite good enough? What if we are wrong? What if even the judges in Newfoundland are wrong? The purpose of the Privy Council is to prove that judges elsewhere may sometimes be wrong.
I do beg the Government, even at this stage, to see whether there is not something that can be done to avoid the very unpleasant dilemma in which—it may only be by the one chance in a thousand—this House may be placed. Is it not possible, on the one side, in view of the grave importance of this issue, to have the hearing expedited? On the other side, would it not be possible, after explaining to Canada and Newfoundland the very real difficulty in which this House is 388 placed—because I do feel that it is a real difficulty—to have the operative date of the federation postponed for a limited period, which would enable the hearing to be completed?
I beg the Government to think over those suggestions. There is still time to do something about it. There are many stages in this House and in another place before the Bill, for which a Second Reading is being asked today, finally becomes law. Certainly I, myself, will today support the Second Reading, but between now and the time when this Bill passes from our control, and finally when it passes from the control of another place, I do expect the right hon. Gentleman to do everything that lies in his power to make quite certain that this House is not running a risk of being placed in a position which, hereafter, all of us would regret. Certainly my attitude to the Second Reading will be determined largely by the assurances the right hon. Gentleman can give me on that point.
I want to close by echoing the words of the right hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the Commission. They have had a very difficult time. In the early days there was, I think, a good deal of suspicion of them and of the many hardships which they had to inflict before greater hardships could be cured. They have done their duty with a single-minded regard for the welfare of the people of Newfoundland. In particular, all old Members of this House will wish well to the Governor, an old colleague of ours in this House and, what is to me an even greater testimonial of merit, a fellow Lancastrian. Whatever the result, and however these differences are resolved, it must be the earnest hope of everyone in this House that if federation goes through, it will result in the greater happiness and prosperity, not only of the people of Canada but, even more important, of those people of Newfoundland for whom we have a special responsibility and with whom we have a special tie.
It is a great regret that, after all these centuries of loyal affection between us and Newfoundland, there should be in any section of the population the regrets and suspicions with regard to this country which now exist. I do not myself believe them to be justified. Whatever may be felt about wisdom or folly, I cannot allow the suggestion that this 389 country has in any way behaved unfairly or with lack of justice. I hope that time will convince the people there of that, that the bitterness will die down, and that in their new relationship with us the connection may be as long and as prosperous as it has been in the past.
Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University) I beg to move, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question, and to add: this House, without prejudice to the merits of the proposed union of the Dominions of Canada and Newfoundland, is not satisfied that the procedure preliminary to the introduction of this Bill has been constitutionally correct and just, is not persuaded that the will of Newfoundland has been established as clearly and unmistakably as is necessary for a surrender of sovereignty and a lasting change of status, and, observing that the terms of union have been debated in the Canadian Parliament for a fortnight but have not been debated in Newfoundland at all, declines to approve the Agreement until it has been considered and approved in the Legislature of Newfoundland and an Address presented to His Majesty in accordance with Section one hundred and forty-six of the British North America Act, 1867. I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) on his very statesmanlike speech, with not all of which I agree. First let me say that I have the greatest sympathy with the Secretary of State, partly because Newfoundland has always presented a very difficult problem and partly because I think he has inherited a policy which he had to follow, though I have not always by any means agreed with the way in which he has followed it. I am genuinely reluctant and regretful to find myself at issue with the Government in this affair, because ever since our present Prime Minister sent me to Newfoundland in 1943 with, as he now is, Lord Ammon and Sir Derrick Gunston —and I wish he were with us—I have tried to be co-operative and helpful towards the Government in this affair.
I have very often kept quiet when I wanted to be noisy. Perhaps I was wrong—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned one example—but I thought my job on the whole was to be on the Government side. Lord Cranborne, as he then was, used to send for us and tell us what he wanted to do, and if the right hon. Gentleman had followed that procedure, things might have been a bit easier. It was only last Autumn that, satisfied at last that the Government 390 would consult nobody and listen to nobody, I reluctantly acceded to the request of the Newfoundland Self-Government League, which represents about half the population, to do what I could to defend their rights and liberties.
I wish, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that all this could be settled in harmony in this House and in the Parliaments of Canada and Newfoundland, but let the House observe that not even in Canada has there been complete harmony. Although there was unanimity for Confederation, Mr. Drew, Leader of the Canadian Conservative Opposition, was so much opposed to the procedure of which I complain, that he led 74 members of the Canadian House of Commons into the Opposition Lobby against the final resolution. He said that not merely had the procedure been improper, but that it had “the taste of an unholy deal.” That is not the wild member for Oxford University speaking, but the Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Parliament. Several Canadian papers agreed with me, and the “Toronto Globe and Mail” said long ago: The procedure by which it is now proposed to unite Newfoundland with Canada, it is quite clear violates the North America Act; it violates the 1934 agreement between Britain and the Island, and it ignores or at any rate treats as of no consequence the sovereignty of Newfoundland. That is not the wild and irresponsible Member for Oxford University, but one of the principal papers of Canada. They agree with the points which are the basis of the appeal. I know perfectly well that it is in order for the Government to charge ahead ignoring an appeal to the highest judicial authority in the Empire. I know that Parliament can do anything, but surely there are some things Parliament does not do. This appeal was the Newfoundlanders’ very last hope. It was started last October. After all, the courts. do not sit very often in August and September, and they were held up in the lower courts and by lack of funds. It was quite by accident, I believe, that the appeal arrived in London at the same time as the Government introduced their Bill.
I shall not go as far as the Secretary of State in entering into the merits of this appeal, but may I give a summary of the points, prepared by learned counsel who may be engaged in the case, that will be 391 raised? I think that the right hon. Gentleman is belittling the effect of this appeal. I am probably no better a lawyer than he is, but, as I understand it, if this appeal were successful, then this Bill would be nonsense. They claim that it would not be binding, because these terms we are asked to approve would have been negotiated by unauthorised persons, and that therefore they do not exist. However, I am not trying to argue the matter, but for the purposes of the record, this is the summary of the points for the appeal:
“(a) Confederation can be brought about only in accordance with a law which is binding on the people of Newfoundland.
(b) Section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867, is such a law. But Confederation is not to take place under the provisions of that Section. That is so for the reason that under that Section Confederation could come about only upon an Address from the Houses of the Legislature of Newfoundland, and no such Address can be presented while the provisions of the Old Letters Patent are suspended.
(c) Therefore it is proposed to establish Confederation under a new Imperial Act, which in effect repeals Section 146 of the 1867 Act. It provides that the Agreement ‘shall have the force of law notwithstanding anything in the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1946.’
(d) But the Imperial Act will not be binding on the people of Newfoundland because (a) the Imperial Parliament has no power to make a law binding the people of Newfoundland except at the request and with the consent of a Parliament of that Dominion, and there has been no request and consent of such a Parliament, alternatively (b) if the request and consent can be given by the people upon a referendum, the referendum must be held under a valid law, and the Referendum Act was invalid.”
That may be complete legal nonsense, for all I know, and it may be turned down, but it is very seriously believed in by the people making this appeal. An appeal is a very expensive matter, and one does not make one to the Privy Council just for fun.They have a right to be heard.
The attitude of the Government to this appeal must have astonished many Members who heard what has been said about the people of Newfoundland having made “no request” for self-government. The phrase “at the request of” the people always struck me as very surprising, because no one in their senses would take away from Newfoundland all forms of machinery for self-expression and then 392 say: “You have to ask for them back again.” That phrase was not in the original constitutional paragraph of the Royal Commission’s report. They merely said “self-supporting.” It certainly was not in the Letters Patent, and it was certainly not in the speech of Mr. Alderdice, Prime Minister of Newfoundland, because all he said was: We trust implicitly in their honourable intentions”— that is the honourable intentions of His Majesty’s Minister— feeling confident that a full measure of responsible government will be restored to the Island when we have again been placed upon a self-supporting basis. I do not want to argue about that too much; but, goodness me, every time they have tried to make a request they have been thwarted. At the end of 1945 they started to circulate a petition for self-government in the island, and that is a long and difficult business in the remote parts of that rocky island. But that was knocked on the head by the announcement of the election of the Convention. But the matter did not stop there, because the Convention, by a majority vote, said that they wanted only two questions to be put to the people, responsible government or self-government. If that had gone through there is not the smallest doubt that there would have been a request, but it was thwarted by the Secretary of State because he insisted on putting in Canada. Another fact is that on the first Referendum responsible Government was on the top of the bill.
Next it has been rather forgotten that a petition was presented to his House by myself signed by 50,000 people. That was rather an astonishing thing. Anybody who knows the island will understand that to go round it—and remember it is a quarter as large again as Ireland—and collect 50,000 signatures from fishermen and foresters and farmers all over the place involves some work. When the petition was being organised, the Commission of Government refused to allow the organisers to use the radio, although two members of the Commission of Government had previously used the radio for the purposes of advocating confederation. Finally, we have this appeal to the Privy Council. After all that history and all the serious efforts that have been made in this matter, to hear 393 the right hon. Gentleman say that never was a request made for self-government seems to me to be the oddest thing I have ever heard from the Government Front Bench.
In regard to the Referendum, it is perfectly true that not only I but Lord Ammon, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission, recommended that there should be a Referendum, and we had two main things in mind. One was that we wanted to get the political machinery going—it had been dead for many years—and the other was that in those days there was doubt if the prosperity in the island was going to continue after the war, and the people might very well have liked the Commission of Government to continue for a period so that they could see how things would shape. If they wanted to do that, it might have been silly, though constitutionally correct, to give them a Parliament which they did not want. That was the main justification for a Referendum. But, of course, those for whom I speak think that it was wholly unconstitutional. We also thought that it would be useful as an indication of the general feeling of the people of Newfoundland.
Now we come to the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman has read out. I read it for the first time yesterday only. Nothing could be clearer and I agree with him. I did not know about it at that time. My vigilance was relaxed, I suppose. But this is one point where I wish the right hon. Gentleman had done some consulting. If he had asked me, I should have said, “Don’t include Federation with Canada”; I should have said that not only is it not constitutional, but that is not the sort of thing to put before the people in a Referendum. How in the world could it possibly be said in any real sense that the Terms, as their preamble say, were “before the people”? I do not understand the half of them, and I am a distinguished Oxford man.
Quite apart from the Constitution, it is wrong to put such a question before the people as a Referendum because that is not the sort of machinery to use; and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wanted—and perhaps he was right—to put Confederation before the people at a Referendum there were one of two things he should have done. One was to say, “We want to know what you 394 think, but we are not going to exclude the proper constitutional machinery. Afterwards there shall be a Parliament in which your decision could be confirmed”; or alternatively he could have said, “We must have a two-thirds majority in order to support such a vital change of status as the giving up of Newfoundland’s sovereignty.”
Mr. Stanley I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman did not see the Terms, and, therefore, is not in a position to express an opinion on them, but they must have been seen by the people of Newfoundland where they must have been a major document when published. Did he get any representation against them from the people of the island?
Sir A. Herbert I cannot honestly say that I did. I heard a lot of mutterings about them and I think the best answer to that query is that they hoped they would win. But I do not think that matters. The point is what our statesmen ought to do. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had done this. I will not dwell on it any longer, because I do not want to spend too much time on all these recriminations about the past or about constitutionality, and I am quite prepared to attack this Bill on the present facts, and the face of the Bill.
Let us look at this Bill in relation to our constitutional practice. Let us first look at the Preamble. All the constitutional safeguards which our ancestors erected are not mere verbal formulae, but are designed to produce statesmanlike results. If we look at the Preamble to this Bill we see what an impossible position we get into when we avoid them. The long Title is very grand, A Bill to confirm and give effect to Terms of Union agreed between Canada and Newfoundland. Then it goes on: Whereas by means of a referendum the people of Newfoundland have by a majority signified their wish to enter into confederation with Canada. For “the people” we should read “44½per cent. of the registered electorate.” I have those figures from the Secretary of State. Look at line 2 where it says: have by a majority … The majority was 4 per cent. of those who voted. Does the right hon. Gentleman say that that is a proper majority whereby a Dominion is to surrender its sovereignty?
Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central) Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he thinks would be a proper majority?
Sir A. Herbert If there is to be a majority at all it should be two-thirds. Not one comma of the American constitution can be changed unless there is a two-thirds majority, and by the wise rules of the M.C.C. even the rules of cricket cannot be altered without a two-thirds majority.
Mr. P. Noel-Baker Does the right hon. Gentleman think it worked well?
Sir A. Herbert In line 8 we find that Canada has “requested and consented” to the enactment of this Bill. That is because Canada comes under the Statute of Westminster. These words do not appear in any reference to Newfoundland. The Secretary of State mentioned that the Dominion of Newfoundland has never adopted Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster. It has never had a chance, because the Act came into operation in 1931, and almost immediately afterwards Newfoundland found itself in difficulty and has never had a Government since. That is one of the points perhaps for the Privy Council, but there is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
Towards the end of the second paragraph we read that the agreement containing the Terms of Union has been duly approved by the Parliament of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland. That is rather a descent after the great phrase in the long Title. The Parliament of Canada discussed these Terms, comma by comma and Clause by Clause for more than a fortnight, and at the end there was a wonderful scene, which I should have liked to see. Members rose in their places and sang “God save the King” and that fine song “O Canada.” What has happened in Newfoundland? The Terms there have been approved by the Government of Newfoundland, which consists of seven people appointed by the Crown, four of whom are Englishmen. There is not even a majority of Newfoundlanders in the Government of Newfoundland, which approved of the terms by which that Dominion loses its sovereignty. Is that democracy? Is that what we understand by the traditional practices of this country and Commonwealth?
396 When I went to Newfoundland along with others I went into the old Parliament House. It was not even empty. It was full of civil servants. When we asked where was the Speaker’s Chair we were told it was in some stable covered with dustproof wrappings. They did not even know where the stable was. These things are remembered against us in this country. They are going on being remembered. I do not want to cause trouble. The trouble is there, and I only want to put it right. Nobody realises over here the feeling there is in Newfoundland against this country. It comes out clearly in letters that are written. I do not mean letters from politicians or the sort of letter that we see in the newspapers. 1 mean letters from ordinary men and women, people who write gossipy letters to friends over here. This is one, talking about the political situation: That all looks completely hopeless, and how people are learning to hate! It’s not so much actual Confederation which hurts but it’s the dirty way the Home Government have sold us. It may be wrong but that is what they feel. This morning in church people refused to stand for the National Anthem—elderly, steady and staid people, normally patriotic to the core. Everywhere, one hears of outport people taking down the inevitable picture of the King and Queen, and one man the other day said he had taken down his Union Tack for the last time. One man, writing to me the other day—
Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North) What church was it?
Sir A. Herbert I do not think it matters what church he was in.
Dr. Haden Guest I meant what church party?
Sir A. Herbert If the hon. Gentleman has no better contribution to make to the Debate he had better let me get on. A man wrote to me, and I am not saying that these people are right. I am telling the House what has happened.
Mr. G. Thomas Why repeat it, then?
Sir A. Herbert This man said that our name would stink in the nostrils of a people who are as British as the lions in Trafalgar Square. He repeated the story of the National Anthem incidents.
397 I did not start the petitions and I did not lodge the appeal to the Privy Council. I say, let us do this thing in the right way. I am tired of hearing people say that we are doing the right thing in the wrong way. If we are doing it in the wrong way, it cannot be the right thing. We do not say that about a forced marriage or a rape. We do not say: “The young lady must go to bed one day. What does it matter what the arrangements are?” We take good care to be sure that she knows what she is doing, that she is willing, and that she is to be properly provided for. Of none of these things are we sure. Let us do this thing also in the right way.
Even now, let us forget all the arguments about whether the past was right or wrong, and about the constitutionalities. Let us see whether we can make sure. We still have an opportunity of saying to Newfoundland: “Here is your liberty, do with it what you will.” There could be a general election in May. There cannot be such a very great hurry about the Bill. What the magic of 31st March may be nobody has yet explained, and after all, the people of Newfoundland have waited for 15 years. They would have an election in May, presumably when the snows are cleared. There will presumably be some candidates for Confederation and others, perhaps fewer, for responsible government. Suppose that the Federationists are returned. Then, with all the might, majesty and power of Parliamentary authority, Newfoundland will go over to Ottawa, and come back and approve the terms. No doubt there will then be another glorious scene, this time in the Newfoundland Parliament, with the singing of “God Save the King,” “O, ‘Canada,” and perhaps that fine old Newfoundland song “We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Newfoundlanders.”
On the other hand, suppose that the Federationists do not win—I believe that the fear that that might happen is at the root of the Bill—and I should not be surprised. Then responsible government will win, and Newfoundland will show that she is capable of running herself for ever. So far as I know, her dollar situation is a damned sight better than ours. She has a secure market for her forest products and her fisheries. Labrador may become another Alaska, because it has the largest iron ore deposits in the 398 world waiting to be exploited, and they will be a terrific thing. Whoever runs them, Labrador will be an old age pension for Newfoundland for a very long time. That is what I suggest. For the life of me, I cannot understand why, even now, the Government cannot say that this is the best way to do the business and why they cannot do the simple, honourable and constitutional thing. However, I know that I am talking to deaf ears.
Let me now glance at the terms. According to the Preamble, the original terms were before the people in the form of a Referendum. It is impossible for any forester or fisherman, even if the effort had been made—and I do not think it was—to explain the terms to them, to get terms like this sufficiently into his head to be able to produce a sober judgment on them. The original terms may have been better or they may have been worse. Some people tell me that these are worse. First of all, Canada takes over the 1933 Loan, which is held in London and which amounts in all to about 71 million dollars. There is a sinking fund of nine million dollars on them. Canada will pay us 61 million dollars for taking over that loan. That sounds very good, but we have to reflect and to remember that the national debt in Canada amounts to 1,500 dollars per head while in Newfoundland it is only about 200 dollars per head. Newfoundland will take over for ever a debt about seven times her present national debt, in addition to the 61 million dollars which Canada is taking from England. This is the kind of thing which would be discussed very properly in a Newfoundland Parliament.
Secondly, all this talk of subsidies sounds very good. I gather that most of them represent rentals for the taxes which used to go to Newfoundland will now go to Canada. I saw a rather angry letter or leading article in a Newfoundland newspaper the other day pointing out that over the whole range of the Provinces we find that they receive 76 million dollars by way of subsidy, but that Canada takes 342 million dollars. That does not sound a very profitable transaction, the paper said, and we should know more. This again is the kind of thing which ought to be discussed in a Newfoundland Parliament.
There is the question of balanced Budgets. At the moment, and ever since 399 1941 the island has had a balance on her Budget. It is surprising to find that since the war it has been even better. I make the prediction that under the proposed terms Newfoundland is going to show a loss. I will tell the Minister the authority upon which I make that prediction. I have several documents, one from a politician who, some people think, is rather wild, and so I will not quote him. There is also the minority Report of a gentleman named Crosbie who was a delegate to Ottawa. He refused to sign these terms. He is a prominent business man. He said that they were “financial suicide.” He said that Canada was sitting in the driver’s seat and was driving a hard bargain. A document on which I rely even more, is a report from a celebrated firm of Canadian chartered accountants, who suggest that under these Terms—the original Terms which the right hon. Gentleman says have been before the people—Newfoundland will have a deficit of four million dollars every year, and up to 12 years, a loss of about 50 million dollars in all. She will have exhausted her surplus by that time.
I have had that report by these chartered accountants brought up to date by a man who is rather experienced in these matters—that is to say, in making adjustments to bring in the increased transitional grants and so on—and, to my astonishment, he comes out with a worse result. He predicts a loss of 6 million dollars a year on the Newfoundland Budget, and a total loss after 12 years of 70 million dollars. I am prepared to go half way and predict a loss of 5 million dollars. It is all very well for noble Lords in another place and for some hon. Members in this House to say that the terms are generous and favourable. How do they know? The only people who know are the Newfoundlanders. The only people who have said a good word for the terms—I have never heard a good word from the Newfoundlanders—and who have approved them, are the people who negotiated them, and they were appointed by the Newfoundland Government not half of whom are Newfoundlanders. As the man in the story said, “That seems to be a hell of a way to run a railway.”
Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon) Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we in 400 this House should consider the pros and cons of the finance and economics of the situation and what is good for Newfoundland, and that we should make a decision thereon instead of leaving it to the Government of Canada and people of Newfoundland?
Sir A. Herbert No, I am suggesting the opposite. Newfoundland has not been allowed to discuss the terms. Where has a single comma or clause of the terms been debated in Newfoundland? I merely deprecate anybody in this House or anywhere else saying that these are the best terms in the world.
I will now say a few words on the American bases. During the war we had a curious habit of giving away other people’s property. We leased important bases to America for nothing for 99 years. The Newfoundlanders did not mind that during the war, but there was a clause which stated that after the war there should be some new negotiations. Since those bases are very strong bargaining points, we may be sure that a self-governing Newfoundland would have got some material benefit from the United States in exchange. We may be sure that Canada will do so. Hardly had the Debate been finished than the Canadian Prime Minister went quite rightly to Washington to discuss these matters. There ought to be some mention of this in these Terms. I may be talking nonsense, but I think I know more about this matter than some people on the Government Front Bench.
I ask the House to remember two things. One is the speech of the Prime Minister of Newfoundland which I have already quoted: We trust implicitly their honourable intentions. After all the arguments and quibbles, I do not believe that our pledge has been fulfilled, although I know we have the best intentions in the world. Secondly, I would remind the House that at the present moment there is in this building a petition signed by 50,000 Newfoundlanders to this House asking for consideration. Do not let hon. Members opposite think, as I have heard people say, that the people behind this movement are all wealthy merchants of St. John’s. There are not 70,000 wealthy merchants in Newfoundland; I do not suppose there are more than seven. 401 I wish hon. Members had seen the names on the pages of the petition; I have some pages here. There are good old English names like Tarrant, Turpin, Blake, Drake—
Professor Savory (Queen’s University of Belfast) And some good Ulster names.
Sir A. Herbert —a Samuel Butler and a William Churchill who made his mark. There are no Vyshinskys, although there might, I dare say, be a few Stanleys. They are simple and sometimes even illiterate people—not wealthy merchants, but people who are passionately attached to the English idea, who speak words now which we have forgotten but which can be found in our dictionaries—people who look about the world and see us giving Parliaments and liberties to black, brown and yellow men, and who say “All we want is to be able to determine our own future in our own Parliament instead of being chucked across the counter in a tied-up parcel as if we did not matter and as if we had not been governing ourselves since 1855.” They are people whose families have been there for 400 years, since Sir Humphrey Gilbert gathered the sailors on the same spot where they still gather on Commemoration Day around him and planted the White Ensign and sing the English songs, especially the National Anthem.
I have done my best for these people, and I can do no more, but I do say this: if the policy of this Bill prevails, I for one shall not be sorry to go out from a Parliament which can so affront a proud, British, loyal, white people, and the good name and honour of my own beloved country.
Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley) I beg to second the Amendment.
I support the eloquent and passionate plea made by my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) on behalf of a great people in a remote island who have always been loyal to this country. I have been identified in a modest way with trade in Newfoundland, and I have been in contact with Newfoundlanders who came here during the war. That island, in spite of the difficulties with which it was confronted, sent a larger proportion of fighting men to supplement our efforts 402 in the late war than in any other part of the British Commonwealth of nations.
The reason I feel so strongly about His Majesty’s Government’s treatment of Newfoundland is because it is a grave reflection that there should be a feeling of bitter rancour among half the people in that island. Newfoundlanders have made their plea to us repeatedly. I appreciate what has been said about the work of the Commission. It made a great contribution to the welfare of the people of Newfoundland; but, nevertheless, the Government have treated the people of the island extremely shabbily in not examining their request with the respect and consideration due to a people who have rendered such services to this nation. There is developing a tendency to give away bits of the British Empire here and there, and I think that tendency was just a little manifest in the hurried way in which the Government have dealt with the people of Newfoundland. I want Newfoundland to continue as part of the British Commonwealth rather than see it associated with Canada, so long as it can be a separate self-governing community.
However, I am bound to say that I was strongly impressed by the admirable speech made by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). I do not think any of us in this House, and especially those of us who have been here for a long time, would like to be a party to any decision to make any section of any community in any part of the Commonwealth discontented, unhappy and anxious to make trouble. I was very much touched by the appeals made by the minority in correspondence which I have received, and in conversations which I have had, from people in Newfoundland, lest the minority, in view of the way they have been treated by the Government, should feel bitter and acute resentment against this country.
At the same time I have to recall the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol that similar circumstances may arise among the majority in favour of confederation with Canada. I hope very much that whatever the outcome of this discussion is, and no doubt the Government will get their Bill, nothing will follow to cause any unkindly feeling or bitterness between the peoples in Newfoundland. The House would never wish to be associated 403 with any Measure which would cause unkindly feelings among peoples in any parts of the Commonwealth. I very strongly endorse the statesmanlike observations made about this complex, difficult and embarrassing case by my right hon. Friend. I hope that this will lead to the happiness and prosperity of the people of Newfoundland in association with Canada rather than stimulate differences among interests in the community itself.
In support of what was said by the junior Burgess for Oxford University, I suggest that it might be appropriate, fitting and perhaps helpful to the future relationship between this country, Newfoundland and Canada, if the Bill were postponed until the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have had an opportunity to consider the representations made to it. This seems to be a little unwise on the part of the Government, and I suggest to the Secretary of State, who presented his case fairly and squarely in every particular, that he will be rendering a great service to our relationships throughout the Commonwealth if he will take such measures as are possible in consultation with the Attorney-General in order to postpone the passage of this Bill until the case of the petitioners to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has been heard and determined.
In dealing with such a community of patriotic people of British breed who have done so much in their limited way to uphold the traditions, character and quality of our people and the people of Newfoundland, this House must try not to make them unhappy or to prevent them having the fullest opportunity of coalescing together in friendship and harmony as a new part of the Canadian Dominion.
Mr. Parker (Dagenham) I support the Government and oppose the views of the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert). I plead a special interest in this matter because in the early days of this Parliament I had the honour to be Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions. One of the very few responsibilities which then came to the very under-occupied Under-Secretary was Newfoundland. I wonder what the present Under-Secretary will have to do 404 when the Bill is passed unless other responsibilities have since been added. During that period I acquired a considerable interest in Newfoundland which I have maintained. Last September I went to Newfoundland and spent three weeks there, about a week in St. John’s and about a fortnight on the West Coast and in the central parts of the island. I visited a great many outports, loggers’ camps and the paper towns, in addition to meeting people in the capital.
This was soon after the voting on the two referenda. Political interest still ran very high. I formed a number of very definite impressions. I am quite certain that the great majority of the people had thought out their views on this subject. It had been very keenly argued right the way through the country over a number of weeks and months. When the Convention met, its proceedings were broadcast; witnesses were examined, and all the issues were discussed at very great length and over a very long period. I am quite certain that the people of Newfoundland came to their decision knowing the issues and I therefore think that the final decision taken in favour of Confederation with Canada on a vote in which more than three quarters of the people participated was definitely a national decision. I take the view that if democracy means anything, it means the rule of the majority, and there was a definite majority, quite as great a majority in favour of Confederation as we had in this country in favour of the present Government at the last General Election. In the recent American Presidential elections, only 51 per cent. of the adult population over 21 voted. Political interest was far greater in Newfoundland, and the result of the voting is certainly a democratic one.
Sir A. Herbert May I point out that governments, thank God, and even Presidents of the United States pass, but a change of constitution is lasting, and that is why a larger majority is required.
Mr. Parker I understand that point, but the matter was fully discussed before the decision was made. It was a decision of the country as a whole as against the capital. St. John’s voted two to one for Responsible Government and against Confederation with Canada. The neighbouring outports in the Avalon Peninsula also voted against confederation. However, 405 the rest of the island voted by a substantial majority for confederation and very definitely against the views of the people in St. John’s. It was a conflict of opinion within the island. There was very strong and emphatic opinion on the West Coast, in the central parts of the island and in the outports as a whole against Responsible Government as it had existed before 1933. When the people there talk about Responsible Government they mean the kind of government which existed in the island before the Commission was set up in 1934. That kind of government was a very unsatisfactory one. Until quite modern times there was only one industry in Newfoundland, the fishing industry, and the country was ruled economically and politically by a small group of Water Street merchants. Those merchants advanced funds to the fishermen to live during the winter and to fit out their boats in the spring and were paid back in the autumn. Some of the merchants behaved well and some did not.
However, it was a very unsatisfactory economic set-up in which a small group of people had complete economic domination of the country. They also had political domination of the country. From the time that Responsible Government was introduced in 1855 until 1933, different parties existed in the country, but the ruling personnel was drawn from this small group of merchants, who fought one another on small points of detail but whose general policy was always the same. There gradually grew up a great feeling of discontent about this among the ordinary outport fishermen, and in the years before 1933 a number of attempts were made to create separate political movements, but they lacked leadership.
The form of government which existed up to 1933 had many defects. The Civil Service was based on the spoils system, and when Governments changed many of its personnel were sacked. Also, owing to earlier sectarian strife, the jobs in the Civil Service had to be filled in turn from the three religious groups, the Catholics, the Anglicans and the Free Churchmen, which were almost equal in numbers. Government administration was thus very unsatisfactory because people were appointed not on merit but because of their religious or political views. There 406 was a great deal of corruption in the Government.
The vote last summer was a vote against a return to that kind of government. There was a fear throughout the country areas among the loggers and fishermen that a vote for Responsible government would mean the return to power of the Water Street merchants and a return of the corruption in government that existed up to 1933. They voted for Confederation with Canada in the hope that by being part of a larger area there would be safeguards against a return of that kind of Government, so that they would be able to maintain the good standard of Civil Service recruitment which had been set up by the Commission Government, and so that they would have greater financial security and stability because they were part of a larger country.
There was also the important point that Canada has far better social services than a poor country like Newfoundland could ever hope to afford. In fact the argument which annoyed people who supported Responsible Government most was that right through the outports much was made by those who supported Confederation with Canada of the “baby bonus”; for Canada has a good system of family allowances and the people of Newfoundland have large families, so many of them voted in favour of confederation in order to have the full benefits of these social services. That is an important point because, despite the present prosperity of Newfoundland, it would never be possible in such a small country to have the generous social services of a larger country like Canada. Undoubtedly much of the vote in favour of confederation was also based on appreciation, not only of the present Canadian social services, but on possible future ones.
There were other things which influenced opinion. I think the Commission Government did a fine job of work, especially during the war years when more money was available and when they were able to develop their constructive proposals. I would like to add my appreciation to what has been said about the work done. It has meant a complete reconstruction of the educational system. New schools have appeared in practically all, the outports, education has been made compulsory, and an attempt has been made to build cottage hospitals and to 407 tackle that grave difficulty of T.B. which is so rampant in Newfoundland.
On the economic side also much has been done. For the first time soil surveys were made. Attempts were then made to settle with ex-Service men the few pockets of really good land found in the country in order to produce vegetables and milk. Then again there was an attempt to plan the fishing industry for the first time. Originally, the island had depended almost entirely on the sale of dried and salted cod sent to the Mediterranean and to tropical countries; an attempt was made to open up quick freezing plants all round the coast, the fresh fish being sent to American markets. More money could be obtained from the sale of such products than from selling dried fish in the older markets. The Fishery Board, which the Commission set up, controlled the location of these plants to prevent them crowding one another out. All this work has been pushed ahead in the last 15 years, and in voting for confederation the majority of the people in Newfoundland were voting for a continuance of that kind of policy.
This vote represents a change in economic and political power in the island. Nowadays the paper industry is the wealthiest; its exports are the largest in value, though it is not the largest in the number of people it employs for there are far more fishermen employed in the island than in the paper industry. However, there has been a big settlement of the West Coast, whereas in the past most of the population was concentrated around St. John’s. This economic development has reflected itself very much in this vote, which illustrated the growth of opinion against the St. John’s merchants and a desire to see that they do not run the country in future. There have been growing up in the last few years powerful trade unions in the island, in the Civil Service and elsewhere. They are a useful form of training for self-government, and they will be most useful in helping to see that any attempt to reintroduce the kind of corruption which existed under the old regime before 1933 will be impossible.
I only hope that, this decision having been taken, Newfoundland will go forward to a successful future as part of the Canadian Commonwealth for I 408 believe it to be the wish of the people as a whole. I am quite certain that the small opposition group in St. Johns, whatever one did, would never be satisfied. On the whole they represent business interests, who are terrified that they may be put out of business by becoming part of the wider Confederation of Canada. In the past Newfoundland, being a small country, has had to raise most of its revenue through indirect taxation. This has raised the cost of living to its poorer inhabitants, whereas the wealthier sections have got away without high taxation. The Commission Government raised the Income Tax, but it is still not as high as in Canada, or here. It will go up higher as the result of confederation, however, and that is one of the strongest reasons the opposition have against it. However, confederation will mean a large reduction in the cost of living because many of the tariffs will be removed, and therefore the poor fishermen and loggers will have a higher standard of living than in the past.
In conclusion, I wish Newfoundland well, and I am certain it has done the right thing in voting to go into Canada for it will be part of a great country which has a great future.
Professor Savory (Queen’s University of Belfast) I listened with the utmost pleasure to the lucid and fair statement made by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. Evidently he was trying to give us the true facts of the case, and it was a statement of which he may well be proud. If, therefore, I am moved to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), I do so for strong reasons. May I congratulate him on his brilliant speech? If I may strike a personal note, I would say that I rejoice that I voted for him at the last election, and I deeply regret that by action of this House this eloquent Member is being deprived of his seat.
When we look back on this ancient and historical Colony, we cannot refrain from recollecting its marvellous history. We all know that it was discovered in 1497 and that it was incorporated in the British Realm in the year 1583. It is a large area. It covers 42,000 square miles. In that connection I would refer to the decision of the Privy Council, about which nothing has been said today, 409 which in the year 1927 added a portion of Labrador, consisting of 110,000 square miles, making a total of roughly 150,000 square miles. To day we have a population in the island and its dependency of no fewer than 325,000, and the people are practically 100 per cent. of British stock. Here, as in private duty bound, I would pay a tribute to those noble Ulster immigrants who have done so much throughout its history to contribute to the prosperity of the island.
Unfortunately Newfoundland was severely hit by the terrible economic depression of the year 1931, so that its debt amounted to no less than 100 million dollars—an enormous sum for such a small island. It is only fair to remember in this connection that of that sum 40 million dollars was the direct result of war expenditure on our behalf in World War No. 1, and that during the second World War Newfoundland spent on war work, and on its contribution to this country, no less than 20 million dollars. As the result of this terrible economic depression and load of debt, after the General Election in June, 1932, the Prime Minister, the Hon. F. C. Allerdice, asked the British Government for financial aid. The British Government insisted that they would not give their financial aid without the acceptance of rule by a Commission.
The consequence was that the old Letters Patent of the years 1876 and 1905 were suspended by new Letters Patent dated 30th January, 1934. The Constitution of the island was suspended. A Commission was appointed which consisted, as the hon. Member the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) has said, of three English members, three Newfoundland members and the Governor, who made the fourth British member, presiding over the Commission. But when this constitutional Government was suspended, a most solemn promise was made, which has been admitted by the Secretary of State, who himself read out these very words from Clause G: As soon as the Island’s difficulties are overcome, and the country is again self-supporting, responsible Government, on request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored. In February, 1934, the Commission of Government took office. The war brought about an extraordinary transformation in 410 the finances of Newfoundland. First, there was an immense amount of employment caused by work on the American bases. Then there was the increase in the price of exported timber and fish, upon which Newfoundland so strongly depends. Finally, in 1943, Lord Cranborne, who was then Secretary of State, said in a speech in the House of Lords that Newfoundland was then, and had been since 1941, self-supporting. The iron mines of Labrador proved their worth in terms of gold. This territory, which had been added by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of 1927, proved an enormous addition to the revenue of Newfoundland. It is calculated that these iron mines will produce an annual income of between two and three million dollars. This fact alone has reversed altogether the financial situation.
Mr. Parker Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the mines in Labrador have not yet been sunk? There are some on Bell Isle, off the coast of Newfoundland.
Professor Savory I am perfectly well aware of that. I am giving the estimate of very competent engineers, who have gone into this matter and have issued their report, which I believe to be sound.
In 1945 there was a Public Petition for the restoration of Responsible Government. That Public Petition completely answers the objection made by the right hon. Gentleman that Responsible Government was to be restored only on the request of the people. The people did their utmost to make their request, as has been so strongly pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University. That petition was signed all over the country and, therefore, the condition on which the British Government had so strongly insisted was fulfilled. The people themselves were demanding Responsible Government.
What happened? The British Government said that the question must be settled by a National Convention, which they set up and which began its discussions on September 11th, 1946. The Convention decided that the people should be asked to choose between two things: first, a continuation of the Commission and, second, a return to Responsible Government. The third alternative proposal—that Newfoundland should join the Canadian Confederation 411 —was rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Commission. The voting was 29 against 16. Here was a Convention elected by the people; they considered this question and rejected it; they would not have Confederation with Canada. Then it was that the British Government insisted upon having this issue of Confederation with Canada included in the ballot. They said that there must be a Referendum.
Why did the British Government interfere? What right had they to do so when the Convention had stated most emphatically that they did not want Confederation with Canada? There were two referenda. The first gave as the figures approximately 22,000 for the Commission, 64,000 for Confederation and 69,000 for Responsible Government; so that Responsible Government obtained on this vote not an absolute majority, but a relative majority. I want to point out to Members of this House that 177 of them were elected at the last Election on that very principle; they have obtained a plurality, but not an absolute majority of the electors. On the contrary, the majority of their electors have voted against them and, therefore, 177 Members of this representative House of Commons, which has taken it upon itself to abolish the University franchise, were elected on what is simply a minority vote.
On that principle, surely, we are entitled to accept this same relative majority in Newfoundland for Responsible Government. But, no—the British Government said it was not decisive and that they would have another Referendum to decide on the first two, to decide between Confederation and Responsible Government.
Mr. Bramall (Bexley) Is it not a fact that the British Government said that before the first Referendum was held? They did not say that when the result of the first Referendum was made known.
Professor Savory I never insinuated any such thing. I know that perfectly well. I am certain I did not say anything of the kind.
Then the second Referendum was held. It would be exactly the same situation if, after the General Election, the 177 Members who had obtained only a 412 minority vote were to be obliged to submit themselves, as was always the case in France, to a second ballot between the two candidates—let us say, for instance, the Liberal and the Conservative—who had obtained the largest number of votes; the minority candidate—the man with the least number of votes—would be eliminated and there would be a second ballot. This is the system which the British Government imposed upon Newfoundland, and there was a second Referendum.
The voting resulted in these figures: 78,323 for Confederation with Canada, 71,334 for Responsible Government. The majority for Confederation, therefore, was roughly only 7,000 votes. In fact, the proportion in favour of Confederation was only 52 per cent. of the total votes cast, and was only 43 per cent. of the total number of registered voters. What does this amount to? Not being very mathematical myself, I had these figures checked by my wife, who came to the careful calculation that of the total number of people who voted there was a majority of only 4.6 per cent. in favour of Confederation. Are we to insist that a vast constitutional change should be carried through by such a small majority as that? Someone said just now that in order to make an alteration in the American Constitution there has to be a two-thirds majority. But the hon. Member understated the case. When they abolished Prohibition in the United States by a constitutional Amendment, they had to have a three-fourths majority in both Houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a three-fourths majority of all the States constituting the American union. Under these circumstances I feel that this House cannot force the Bill through with justice. It is a majority of 4.6 in favour of depriving our oldest Colony of its Dominion Government. Surely there should be a greater majority than that.
If the Statute of Westminster had been implemented this would not have been done, because under the Statute of Westminster Newfoundland would have been a full Dominion and without the assent of both Houses of her Parliament this could not have been carried through. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University has told the House that today there is an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. By this 413 legislation are we to render that appeal altogether ineffective, because we state in the Measure: Notwithstanding anything in the British North America Acts, 1867 … I have looked at that Act and I see that in order to enable the Dominion of Newfoundland to become part of the Confederation of Canada there must be an Address to Her Majesty—now His Majesty—from both Houses of Parliament. To frustrate and make ineffective this appeal to the Privy Council is doing something which I contend is altogether unjust.
There is an analogy. In this House, when we ratified the Treaty of 1921 with the Irish Free State, we insisted on the right of appeal to His Majesty in Council. When the Lough Erne decision was given by the Irish Courts under which gentlemen were deprived of fishery rights amounting in value to more than £6,000 a year, it was stated that this was done under the Brehon law in accordance with which all tidal fisheries were public property. When the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council gave permission to Messrs. Moore Bros. to appeal to it, the Irish Free State passed retrospective legislation depriving citizens of the Irish Free State of their right of appeal to His Majesty’s Privy Council. That is an action which today rankles throughout Ireland, an act of injustice which is regarded as intolerable. Are we to permit the same blunder and by our act today to make impossible, to make ineffective, and to make vain the appeal these people have signed to His Majesty in Council? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University said, 50,000 of them have signed the petition. Claims have been put forward and the appeal has been made to the Privy Council.
This House is accustomed to be guided by fair play. I appeal to the House not to give a Second Reading to this Bill today and thereby make the appeal altogether ineffective. I appeal on behalf of this very ancient Colony. I would remind the House that Earl Haig said that the Newfoundland soldiers were Better than the best in the great conflict of 1914–18. I would remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) made a special appeal for the Newfoundland sailors with a 414 glowing commendation of their qualities. All these petitioners ask, and all they are appealing to the Privy Council for, is that they should be masters in their own house and that the solemn pledge given by the Government in 1933 should not be regarded as just another “scrap of paper.”
Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon) The Secretary of State has stated his case and met all the legal objections raised to the procedure he proposes. He has done that on good legal advice, and the matter has been thoroughly investigated, and I do not think there is any legal objection to the course proposed. So I do not propose to go over that ground again. The right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) stated that possibly it might have been better if the wishes of the people of Newfoundland had been taken by means of a Parliamentary decision. I suggest that when it is proposed completely to change the constitution of a country, the Referendum is the best way to do so. The Referendum procedure has been followed in this case. Certain objections have been taken to the way in which the Referendum has been carried out, but I suggest that the Referendum procedure all along had the tacit consent of the people of Newfoundland. No objections were raised to the procedure until the results came out and then a minority began to give trouble because they were dissatisfied with the results. I suggest that we cannot pander to a minority who tacitly agreed to the whole procedure until the results came out.
The junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) raised the point that the consent of the Government of Newfoundland was given by a Commission Government of seven people. That is true, but it was and is the legal Government of Newfoundland, and the consent of the Government of Newfoundland was only ratifying the result of the Referendum. Therefore, it was a perfectly moral, legal and just decision of the Government of Newfoundland just as the decision of the Government of Canada was also perfectly legal, just and moral. The junior Burgess for Oxford University made a lot of mere propaganda points which were raised by this minority objecting to confederation. He mentioned, for instance, the debt per head in 415 Newfoundland, which is far smaller than it is in Canada, and therefore he assumed that it was objectionable for Newfoundland to enter a country with a greater debt per head. If we take some of our poverty-stricken Colonies we find that the debt per head there is a mere fraction of the debt per head in this country, but that is not a reason why they should not benefit enormously by association with this country.
I wish to urge one point very strongly. If it is proposed to reject this Bill, we are raising formidable constitutional issues. The Government of Newfoundland legally and morally and the Government of Canada legally and morally have asked this House to implement a decision arrived at by themselves about their countries and if this House by any chance rejected the Bill it would raise formidable questions with the Government of Canada and even with the people of Newfoundland. In my opinion, this House cannot on constitutional grounds refuse to pass this Bill. Furthermore, I would suggest to hon. Members opposite who take a different view that they should not press this to a Division, because constitutionally it will look bad if it is made apparent to people in the Dominions that proposals for legislation affecting them alone, which they have to put up to this House, are subject to Divisions in this House. In my opinion we are bound to accept what the Government of Canada have asked us to do and what the Government and people of Newfoundland have agreed to do, and it would be absolutely wrong even to have a Division on this Bill tonight.
Labrador, which has been mentioned, has enormous wealth, and it is an enormous country. I suggest to the people of Newfoundland who may hear my words that Labrador cannot possibly be developed by the people of Newfoundland. Enormous capital is required for that. Only the great Dominion of Canada, working with Newfoundland as one of its Provinces, can do it.
I agree with the remark about the heroism of the Newfoundlanders. During their intimate association with our Navy they have done splendid service. They are a magnificent people who have been poverty stricken for generations. When the Commission took over the island it 416 was in a deplorable state, partly because the islanders had put practically all their eggs in one basket—the fishery industry—and partly due to the fact that they had had for a long time corrupt and incompetent Governments. The decision of the people of Newfoundland to ask for this legislation today is largely because their vote was an adverse vote against those people in Newfoundland who had governed them so badly. I hope that the House will, without a Division, give its support to this Bill.
Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen) All Members in every part of the House will agree with the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State paid to the oldest British Dominion, and with the tribute he paid to the Commission and the Governor of Newfoundland. I was especially interested in the form of the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). He singled out the Governor as being a fellow Lancastrian and a former Member of this House. Although the Governor bears a Scots name, I am proud that he is a Welshman, and so I share in the tribute on that ground.
Although the issue was fairly stated by the Secretary of State, as one would have expected, it is really in form a narrow issue. This House is not called upon to decide whether it is desirable or not that Newfoundland should become part of Canada, or whether it would be more prosperous by doing so or not. What is in issue is the good faith of this House itself and the undertakings which were given when the Government of Newfoundland was superseded in 1933. It was superseded because it had got into difficulties. It was a Government of Dominion status and would have become one of complete Dominion status if it had implemented the Statute of Westminster. Therefore, when it got into financial difficulties, a Commission was appointed to take over the whole of the Government.
In citing the terms of that Commission, and the Letters Patent, which were altered in 1934, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that Responsible Government was to be restored immediately the Dominion of Newfoundland regained financial solvency. He then pointed to 417 Clause G, which is not inconsistent with that, but apparently he thinks it is. The alternative to Clause G was to be a request by the people of Newfoundland. That request, he pointed out, has never been made. The petition now lodged, if one takes the vote of the first Referendum, shows that a majority of 69,000 voted for the return of Responsible Government. I am not really interested in those figures, but I am interested in how they were arrived at. The Convention rejected by a majority of 29 to 16 the placing of Confederation upon the ballot paper. Why did they reject it? Because they placed a different interpretation on the responsibility of His Majesty’s Government under the Letters Patent of 1934.
The fact is that His Majesty’s Government have not taken the responsibility placed upon them by the alteration of that status of the Dominion in 1933, as seriously, as they should have done. It has been made a matter of complaint today that no protest has previously been made in this House or in Newfoundland against the change. It might equally be made a matter of protest that the Government have not regarded their responsibilities as of importance. They are putting the law aside to suit the present convenience. A Question was put to the Prime Minister by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) in November last, asking whether the matter had been referred to the Conference of Dominion Prime Ministers. The answer given by the Prime Minister was that it had not been on the agenda, that it had not been referred to them, that it was not a matter which concerned the other Dominions; it was a narrow matter which concerned Newfoundland, and was not of general interest.
I cannot think of a matter of greater general importance than the observance of a law and of a solemn undertaking entered into in 1933. It may be desirable that Newfoundland should join Canada. Whether that is so or not, and whether the vote is conclusive or not, what is of real importance in this matter is that we should observe the form to which we agreed in 1933, namely, that a responsible legislature should first be restored in Newfoundland and that that Legislature should be allowed to make the decision. That is what I mean by observance of the law. That was an important general 418 principle which should have been left for discussion by the Dominion Premiers.
It is most unfortunate that the law should be lightly set aside, especially in these days. The other Dominions cannot lightly regard the using of totally different means to solve a difficulty without carrying out the strict provisions of 1933. They cannot lightly regard the turning aside from those provisions. That is a matter of concern first and foremost to this country, because we gave the undertaking. It is also a matter of concern to every other Dominion and to every other Colony that the law, once passed, and once an undertaking has been given, should be honoured.
I regret that it has been found necessary to bring this Bill before the House at this time. It could very well have been delayed until the decision of the Privy Council had been obtained. Whether or not that decision is in favour of the course that has been followed is a secondary matter. What is important to this House is that once a law has been passed, that law shall be observed by this House.
Mr. Gammans (Hornsey) I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) is not here, because in the course of his speech he made a remark which I was surprised to hear fall from his lips. He said “You cannot pander to minorities.” That may be so, but, surely, minorities have a right to have their voices heard; especially in a matter of this kind. We are not talking about a Town and Country Planning Bill or a Waterworks (Scotland) Bill. We are here dealing with something which is fundamental, about which people feel with their hearts. We are dealing with the whole question of loyalty and status, and loyalty cannot be bartered away. No material advantage can be substituted for love of country. Loyalty cannot be measured in terms of so many pieces of silver or, as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) suggested improved maternity benefits. This Bill not only deals with something fundamental but with something which is irrevocable.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Dagenham is in his place because I wish to make a reference to his speech, especially in view of the position which he held in the Government when these negotiations were proceeding. I thought it was 419 a pity that he had to support his argument by dragging in the Water Street merchants. One curious feature of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they still share the belief of the Middle Ages in demonology. They have to personify in a personal devil anyone or any cause with which they disagree. He asks us to believe that these merchants of Water Street have such enormous power and influence that 70,000 people rush along to support their cause when that cause is fundamentally against the interests of those people. One may be able to put forward some sorts of stunts and get away with it, but I think that is straining our credulity a little too far.
By bringing forward this Bill the Government have landed the House in an absolutely impossible and most unenviable position. If we support the Bill we are laying ourselves open to a charge of offending, and mortally offending, nearly 50 per cent. of the people of this loyal and ancient Colony. If we oppose the Bill, we appear to be unfriendly, not only to the remainder of the people of Newfoundland, but also to Canada as well. With it all, we have the assurance that if this matter goes to the Privy Council and is thrown out, we shall be passing a Bill which may have some legal validity, but would certainly have no moral validity. I do not think that the Government should have landed this House in this most unenviable and quite impossible position. I do not propose to vote against the Bill, but I cannot support it with the whole-hearted approval with which I, and most other hon. Members of this House, would like to support a Bill of this sort, affecting as it does, the welfare of two constituent parts of the British Commonwealth.
This is the sort of Bill which should go through this House unanimously, and without any misgiving. I am sure that the end in view is desirable and probably inevitable. But could not this have been done more cleverly and more tactfully? As it is, the Bill will leave a very nasty taste behind it, because our good faith and our good word will be impugned by a large section of the people of Newfoundland and that is something which no section of this House can regard with equanimity.
We all realise what is the fundamental problem of Newfoundland. 420 It cannot stand upon its own feet, it must come into some sort of federation with some other country. There are only three countries from which to choose, the United States, the United Kingdom or Canada. The first would mean leaving the Commonwealth, and Newfoundland does not want that. I believe there was a time when Newfoundland might have desired to become part of the United Kingdom, with some sort of status rather like that of Northern Ireland. That would have had many advantages, both to Newfoundland and to this country, but it is too late now to argue about that.
The union with Canada is desirable and inevitable. To my mind the terms which Canada is offering are generous, as one would expect them to be. In the long run I consider that the union will lead to great benefits, with a rising standard of living and capital development which the people of Newfoundland would not be able to afford on their own. Further, the people of Newfoundland will participate in a larger world both politically and economically. Generations to come will be grateful for the attitude which has been taken. But what a thousand pities it is, that it has to be like this. Instead of this being a day of rejoicing, a substantial majority in Newfoundland regard it as a day of mourning. They will not become citizens of Canada joyfully, but in a spirit of sullen resignation, thinking all the time that there is an element of trickery about it.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman would deny that. I admit that he has all the legal arguments on his side, but he has not a single humanist argument to back up his case. In matters of loyalty and status it is not to the head to which one has to appeal, it is to the heart. A great deal of damage has been done by His Majesty’s Ministers in this Parliament under-estimating the forces of patriotism and racial and religious feelings. What so often matters is not what is done, but the way in which it is done. It is not enough just to appeal to materialism and self-interest. Human beings are not just stomachs on two legs; they have hearts, too, as well as heads.
What are the grievances of Newfoundland or of a substantial minority in Newfoundland? Their grievances have been set out by almost every hon. Member who 421 has spoken. First, by a bare majority, the difference between 52 per cent. and 48 per cent., their whole future is to be changed. The second grievance is that members of the Commission Government adopted a most un-neutral attitude in this matter and went round stumping the country. The third grievance is that a responsible Government should have been restored before the issue was decided. I know that the right hon. Gentleman says that he is not constitutionally bound to do that. Maybe he is not, but he has not given us any convincing reason why it was not done. He has not dealt with the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) that surely even now other steps could have been taken to see that no legitimate grievance remained, and that everything possible had been done.
The right hon. Gentleman must know, in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, how very often a constituent who has been nursing a grievance for a long time brings it to his Member of Parliament. Although the Member of Parliament may fail to get for him what he thinks he ought to have, the mere fact that that last thing has been done, probably satisfies the constituent, and satisfies him for ever. Why was not that done? It is no use trying to back out of this business by talking about the magic date of 31st March. What does a few months matter? That is the main reason for the dissatisfaction. That is why 50,000 people in Newfoundland have petitioned this House. That is why we hear of men who fought by our side in the recent war who have vowed that never again as long as they live, will they salute the Union Jack. That is why there is bitterness and no joy in Newfoundland.
What ought we to do? Quite frankly, I find it difficult to make up my mind. As I said, I think the Government have landed us in an impossible position. If we approve the Bill we are approving something which has been done in the wrong way, and which a lot of people consider has an element of trickery about it. If we oppose it, we are equally open to the charge that we are not thinking of the real interests of the Colony or of the Commonwealth. I shall not vote against the Bill, but I adopt that attitude with the utmost misgiving. Somehow or other we must endeavour to convey to the 422 people of Newfoundland what is in the hearts of many of us tonight.
If my words were being listened to by the people of Newfoundland I would say to them, “You have made your protest. There are many of us who feel that the right thing may have been done, but it has certainly been done in the wrong way. But do not let your anger do harm to your country or to the Canada of which you are about to become part. After all, your loyalty to the Crown remains unchanged; your autonomy in Newfoundland is not changed. Your future will probably be better than it has ever been before. Your are now to become part of a great country, a country with an immense future, where the great qualities which you will bring to the future of that country will be recognised by its generous people.”
Mr. Bramall (Bexley) I found it somewhat difficult to know on which side the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) was speaking. I find none of the difficulties which he found in knowing whether or not to support the Bill before the House. The question which appeared to be exercising him all the time during his speech was why was this thing—which I think in the last analysis he admitted was right—done in this way? I submit that it was done in exactly the right way for the following reason. His Majesty’s Government clearly laid down the manner in which this constitutional question was to be decided. They have stuck to that method throughout, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) emphasised. The mistake which His Majesty’s Government might easily have made, and which even at this eleventh hour they are being tempted to make, would have been to alter the rules half way through the game. It would have been a fatal and terrible mistake if at any time after there was some suspicion of the way in which the people of Newfoundland were going to decide their fate, His Majesty’s Government had said that in view of the way in which the question was to be decided, they would alter the method by which the decision was to be taken.
We all know that the constitutional question of how the voice of any people shall express itself through democratic mechanism is one which can never be 423 answered other than imperfectly. Since the days of the Greek city states there have been no perfect democracies. Any form of democratic machinery can only be an approximation to the expression of the will of the people. It appears to me that in the machinery that was laid down by His Majesty’s Government as the method for deciding this problem, they came as near as possible to laying down a machinery which should be fully democratic in the sense of expressing the will of the people of Newfoundland. They laid it down clearly and they have followed it consistently.
A method which prescribed a Referendum—that is to say, a direct appeal to the people—was laid down. I should have thought that in any society small enough to make that possible, that would be more democratic than an appeal through delegates or representatives. It was determined that there should be two Referenda so that there should be no question of a decision which was not by a majority vote. It has been submitted, as what I think can only be called a debating point by hon. Members who oppose this Bill, that because we have the system of plurality voting in electing Members to this House, we should disregard the vote on the second Referendum and transfer our attention to the result of the first, which gave a plurality for Responsible Government and rejected Confederation. I do not think this would be the appropriate time or place to discuss whether or not the method by which Members of this House are elected is the perfect method; but surely that is a supremely irrelevant consideration when we are deciding whether or not the people of Newfoundland decided that they wanted one form of Government or another.
However hon. Members may play with the figures of the two Referenda, I cannot see that they can arrive at any result other than the result that, rightly or wrongly, the people of Newfoundland reached that they wanted Confederation with Canada. The trouble with which we are confronted—the difficult position in which we find ourselves today—arises because this is a problem which caused very considerable feeling in Newfoundland and because there is a group of people who are irreconcilably opposed to Confederation with Canada for reasons 424 which the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) mentioned. However this result had been arrived at, if in the last analysis it had been a decision for Confederation with Canada, I believe that these people would have opposed it just as violently as they are opposing it today. His Majesty’s Government are being asked to avoid the ill-feeling which will be caused, by setting aside the decision of the majority and accepting instead the decision of the minority. I believe that is the only way in which His Majesty’s Government could allay this particular agitation.
There appear to be three really serious grounds on which this decision is opposed. The legal arguments were completely dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. I got the impression when the arguments were repeated by opponents of this Bill that they appeared not to have heard the considerations put forward by my right hon. Friend. There appear to be three grounds of some substance. The first is that there was a pledge to restore self-government and that any action taken subsequently was invalidated because that pledge in the Act of 1934 was not carried out. The junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) admitted that he envisaged a situation where self-government should not be restored even though the country was solvent once again.
Sir A. Herbert Only in case, for a short period, they might continue Commission Government until they settled down. I said nothing about Canada at all.
Mr. Bramall I appreciate that. Once it has been admitted that that pledge was not absolute, that the attainment of solvency did not ipso facto bring with it the right to the restoration of self-government, it seems to me that the hon. Member has given away his case on that point. He has admitted that it was free to the people of Newfoundland to choose to be governed in some other way. Once it is admitted that there was one other choice which they could make, why should there not be other choices as well? On what grounds should we say that they must only have the choice between the restoration of self-government and the rather artificial form of Commission Government?
425 The second point is that after the Convention had decided that the people should be given only two alternatives, that of self-government or the continuation of Commission Government, His Majesty’s Government stepped in and proposed that the third possibility of Confederation with Canada should be placed before the people. There again, there can be no argument for saying that that possibility should be excluded automatically. To say that the Convention had the right by a majority to exclude that possibility, is to reduce the subsequent Referendum to a farce. To say that, is to say that the Convention had the right to decide before the Referendum was ever held the choice that should be placed before the people. In that case, why should they not have decided that only one choice should be put before the people? If the Referendum was to be held, surely all serious points of view should be put before the people. In fact, the position as we find it was that the Convention was proposing to exclude from the Referendum the choice which, in the last analysis, proved to be the one which the majority of the people of Newfoundland favoured.
Mr. Hopkin Morris It may well be that that choice could have been left to the people, but the only proper method of leaving it to the people was not by the Convention but through a restored Legislature.
Mr. Bramall Whether it was a Convention or a Legislature, it was, in effect, saying to the people “You will choose representatives, but we will then bind you only to have a limited choice.” It seems to me that it cannot possibly be argued that that is more democratic than the method which was chosen by His Majesty’s Government, which was to say that there were three serious points of view, in favour of which there were blocks of opinion in the Colony, and that all should be placed before the people. I cannot see how anyone can say that there was anything improper in the Government taking up that standpoint.
The hon. Member for Queen’s University, Belfast (Professor Savory), asked what right the Government had to add this third choice. If there is any question as to this right, then the result of the plebiscite provides the answer. It was not only a right, but it was our duty 426 to see that the people were not excluded from expressing an opinion, which no doubt His Majesty’s Government knew was an opinion which was very strongly held, and which indeed, as the result shows, was held by the majority of those people who were interested enough to go to the poll on this question.
The third objection appears to be that the majority is small, and that there was not a majority at the first Referendum. I cannot see that, however small the majority was, one should say that, because the majority was small, it is an argument for rejecting the view of the majority and adopting instead the view of the minority. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument of the smallness of the majority falls to the ground.
I repeat that the method chosen was a thoroughly democratic one. That seems to me to be the only question with which we should concern ourselves. because as has already been pointed out by the right hon. Member for West Bristol, we are treading here on extremely delicate ground. We are in an extraordinary constitutional position in this matter. Here we have a sovereign independent nation in the Dominion of Canada, and yet, by one of those strange historical anomalies which exist in the British Commonwealth, the Constitution of that sovereign independent nation is embodied in an Act of Parliament of another nation, and we are left in a position of trustee for that Constitution, fulfilling the function of making such necessary constitutional amendments as we are requested to make by the Parliament of Canada. Quite clearly, it is a duty which we have to exercise with very great circumspection, and I cannot see that, if we were to reject this Bill, any other construction could be placed on our action than that we were taking action in disregard of the wishes of the Parliament of Canada, and an action hostile to their sovereignty and independence.
We have to take every care of the interests of the people of Newfoundland as well, but I believe that the proper course was taken in that regard when the Government laid down a method for deciding this question, so far as the people of Newfoundland are concerned, which was fair and democratic and which the Government have consistently followed. 427 Having done that, I believe we can have no other duty than to accept the decision reached, on the one side, by that method, and, on the other side, by a sovereign member of the British Commonwealth, and I believe it would be an extremely dangerous action if, as a result of pressure brought to bear by the minority in Newfoundland, we were to reject this Bill.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs) The hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) obviously misses the whole point of our opposition to this Bill. We believe that a fundamental, constitutional decision of this grave nature should and could only be taken by the Parliament of Newfoundland, and that is the whole point of our opposition, except, of course, also that this Bill is untimely.
I must confess that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations made a most persuasive attempt to justify the untimely act of this Government, and I also think that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) gave very wise and helpful guidance to the House. The only point that I must make in regard to both those speeches is that I do not agree with either. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) on bringing this matter before the attention of the House. I thought his speech was most cogent and convincing, and I earnestly trust that, while we may not feel it proper to take the House to a Division on this issue, the arguments that have been used by my hon. Friend and others will travel far away, both to Canada and Newfoundland, and possibly give some comfort to those unhappy people who are in a very distressed mood tonight.
I suppose that it is probably too late to alter the course of events. Indeed, it is quite possible that Newfoundland will be better off, and, certainly, she will be more secure against future vicissitudes under the wing of Canada. But it is not too late to defend the principles of justice and constitutional ethics. There is something odd about this whole business. When self-government was suspended in 1934, we who were in this House at that time agreed with that Measure but only 428 because we were given an assurance that self-government would be returned to our oldest Dominion when she was again self-supporting and when the people there asked for it. That was confirmed by the present Prime Minister in December, 1945.
By June, 1948, both those conditions, to which the Minister and every other speaker has referred, had been fulfilled. Newfoundland was self-supporting and had asked for self-government to be returned to her, by a majority, as we know, of 6,000 votes. Then came this odd business. Our promises were not fulfilled, but a promise that we had never given was thereupon placed upon the people of Newfoundland, and that was the second Referendum. At that Referendum, the idea of the Commission Government was dropped, and so Confederation secured the small margin of 52 per cent. out of a total poll of 84 per cent. The Commission Government votes were split into almost two equal sections, one half going to Confederation with Canada and half to the self-government idea. It is interesting to note that practically 50 per cent. of those votes went either way.
Mr. P. Noel-Baker No. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants the exact figures, they were these. The vote for responsible government went up from 68,000 to 71,000, taking the figures to the nearest thousand, and the vote for confederation went up from 64,000 to 78,000.
Sir T. Moore Yes, that is right, and so there was a slight balance in favour of confederation, but it was certainly rather a half-hearted and uncertain decision on which to take a great constitutional step, and one which I think offends every sense of justice and tradition in this House.
A friend of mine who came to see me in the Lobby here, who had served in Newfoundland during the war and has just been there again, told me that there was a genuine feeling out there that there was some sort of racket going on. Of course, I cannot say anything about that, and I should be disinclined to agree with him, but I think there is far more explanation needed as to why this step was taken at this time, than has been given so far. Not only does the whole future of the people of Newfoundland depend on our 429 judgment today, but also that of the Dependencies of Newfoundland. The honour and good name of Britain and the British Empire are also at stake. My views are borne out by the 15-day Debate which took place over this matter in the Canadian Parliament.
Why all this haste, especially while the appeal to the Privy Council is pending? That question has been asked before. Why not observe the proper constitutional methods? What possible argument can there be against establishing a Parliament of Newfoundland and then taking the people’s constitutional expression of opinion? I believe that if we did that, we should lose the resentment that now exists in Newfoundland, because we should preserve the traditional and constitutional methods of obtaining the majority view of the people. Look at what people put up with in this country from a constitutionally appointed Government. Even though they hate many of the things they do, they accept them because the Government have been elected by the majority. I am certain that would be the position in Newfoundland. Referenda—I suppose that is the correct term to apply to two of them—are not held in great esteem in this country. The nearest approach we had to one in my lifetime was when the peace ballot was held before the war. That did not do us much good, except that, perhaps, it returned the former hon. Member for West Fulham, now the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) on a somewhat “dud prospectus.”
The second Referendum in Newfoundland did not imply any great enthusiasm for the union with Canada. I make no criticism whatsoever of Canada; it may be that it will be all for Newfoundland’s good to come under the wing of Canada. But that is not the issue; the issue is purely a constitutional one—to preserve the rights and freedom of the people of Newfoundland. What I criticise most strongly is the attitude and action of our own Government. One ponders these things, and one tries to seek an explanation because one assumes that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are honourable and wish to do the right thing by this oldest Dominion of ours. One seeks the reason for this, in our judgment, untimely and wrong action. Is it possible that the Government were unwilling to bear the 430 possible cost of any future association with the Dominion of Newfoundland? Has so much money been poured down the nationalisation drain that the Government have none left with which to maintain our traditional association with Newfoundland?
There is another point which has been mentioned twice already. Every mining engineer who knows Newfoundland knows that the coastal areas of Labrador are wealthy beyond words, in many rich and important ores. Surely, at some time or other, we could have shown our interest and our sympathy with our old friends in Newfoundland by finding money with which to develop that coastal area of Labrador? That would have prevented any possibility of this Bill ever coming before us. I suppose it is too late now, but it will be one of the tragic events in the memory of all British people who fought along with Newfoundlanders in the war that we did not take the opportunity to help them out of their difficulties. I wonder what Sir Gordon Macdonald said about this. He was an old colleague of ours, and a much respected one. Has he been consulted, and has he agreed to this abdication of our responsibilities? I should be very surprised if the Under-Secretary of State can say that he has. As was said earlier in the Debate, these people have fought alongside us in two world wars. Now we are discarding them as we discarded Burma. They are looking to us to protect their interests. We are proposing to take from them the sovereignty that they have possessed for many years. In their opinion, we have struck a blow at their nationhood, at their love of country, which is something that means so much to every one of us.
I do not wish to bring any party bias into this, but one cannot forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made some remarks in 1936 about liquidating the British Empire.
Mr. G. Thomas They are staying in the Empire.
Mr. P. Noel-Baker The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) is surely not suggesting that Confederation with Canada means going out of the Empire?
Sir T. Moore Not at all, but to deprive a nation of its nationhood, is something 431 no Government can do with justice, and certainly not as long as there are nearly 50 per cent. of the electorate of that nation hostile to such an action. I protest against this infringement of our Imperial Constitution, I protest against the breaking of solemn promises, and I protest against the ignoble treatment of those who trusted us, and who, it would now seem, trusted us in vain.
Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough) I was one of those—and there may be several—who came into this Debate this afternoon with no hard-and-fast preconceived ideas about the rights and the wrongs of the issue. Indeed, my only predisposition was that I had read the Amendment on the Order Paper and found it, I confess, very persuasively worded. But, having listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, I am bound to say that half the force of that Amendment immediately evaporated, and, having listened to the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), the rest of it evaporated. When the hon. Gentleman the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), who I am sorry is not in his place, spoke, I cannot pretend that his speech completely succeeded in restoring the first predisposition that I had in favour of this Amendment, although I was very sensible of the sincerity of his speech, and, indeed, in many passages, of its moving quality.
What have been the main arguments in favour of the Amendment up till now? The foremost argument has centred on the so-called solemn pledge of 1933. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend pointed out that this solemn pledge was conditioned by the all-important phrase “on the request of the people of Newfoundland.” I should have thought that barely needed the emphasis which he gave it, because if it had not been a condition of the pledge we should have been pledged not to grant but to impose self-government, to impose responsible Government, on the people of Newfoundland whether they had wanted it or not, and I am quite certain that none of us here, nor the Newfoundlanders, would have consented at the time to that kind of a blank cheque. Indeed the hon. and 432 learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) seemed unwittingly to commit himself to that point of view because he argued, particularly in an interruption, that there was no necessity to wait to give the people of Newfoundland the three alternatives but that they should have been given, straight away, responsible self-government. If they were to be given no alternatives, that means to say that the hon. and learned Member was in favour of forcibly imposing responsible Government, whether the people of Newfoundland wanted it or not.
The next argument was that, although it was generally agreed that the phrase “on request” was essential, that request had in fact been made. The Junior Burgess for Oxford University and the hon. Member for Queen’s University, Belfast (Professor Savory) both made the point that a petition of 40,000 or 50,000 signatures had been circulated and that this constituted a request, but both hon. Members had themselves emphasised the vital basic importance of this constitutional issue.
Were they seriously to go on to proceed from that to say that a mere petition, a request from a minority of the population, was to be regarded as sufficient warrant for this basic constitutional change? That is the position in which they put themselves. The Government, on the other hand, have adopted the point of view that this is so important that so far from a mere petition—and, after all, technically a petition of three or four people is, I suppose, a request from the people—so far from that being sufficient, nothing short of a Referendum, the ultimate and the most drastic form of democratic procedure that exists, would be sufficient to justify a decision.
It certainly does not lie in the mouths of the two hon. Members, who unfortunately are not in their places at the moment, to press at one moment for a two-thirds majority on the grounds that this issue is so important and at the same time to argue, as one of them did, that the National Convention’s decision itself should have been binding, even though it was less than a two-thirds majority. It was, in fact, a majority, I think, of only about 30 per cent. At any rate, it was a relatively small majority.
433 The right hon. Member for West Bristol made a point in an intervention when the junior Burgess for Oxford University was speaking, asking, in answer to these criticisms, whether any of them had been made before the second Referendum was taken. All the junior Burgess could reply was that he thought that there had been some mutterings. Really, that is not good enough. He himself has been extremely vigilant in this matter and has followed the affairs of Newfoundland very carefully and solicitously, but he had made no protest and his only excuse was that the matter had escaped his attention. All the people of Newfoundland, whose attention it could not have escaped, had made no protest, although some of them were thought to have muttered. Is it not very like the position of a boxer who gets into a ring, contracts to fight under the Queensberry rules and, when he loses the fight on points, protests that he does not like the rules?
Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South) Who did that?
Mr. Levy I dare say a number of them have done it, although I could not give the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) chapter and verse. If they have done it, they would have received very little sympathy, and the junior Burgess for Oxford University must not be very surprised if there is little sympathy for this retrospective complaint about rules which were accepted in advance, a complaint which is now launched so belatedly.
Much the most effective passage in the speech of the junior Burgess was that in which he read certain seriously aggrieved and bitter anti-British comments. I think everybody in the House was disturbed at the picture he painted and the quotations he gave, which betrayed a real bitterness of feeling and a real development of anti-British feeling. We may deprecate it, we may deplore it, but what is the cure for it? What cure can the junior Burgess himself propose? All I understand him to propose is that even now, at this late hour, we should reverse the democratic decision of the two Referenda and impose a solution which the people of Newfoundland have already rejected, forcing upon them, at least temporarily, Responsible Government. What kind of a cure is 434 that? If there are people who have been tearing down the British flag, if there are people who have been repudiating their old British loyalty, how many of those who are in favour of Confederation would be tearing down Union Jacks if such a step as that were taken? What we should be doing, and the only solution we are being invited to consider by the junior Burgess, is reversing the decision of the majority in order to appease the minority, and hang the consequences. There would be such a flood of ill-feeling that that course is completely unthinkable.
A more cogent point which the junior Burgess made was this. Although the actual terms of the agreement with Canada were fully debated and canvassed in the Canadian Parliament, they were not canvassed and debated in a Newfoundland Parliament because there was not one. On the surface that seemed to me a very forcible point and it disturbed me a good deal, but on second thoughts I feel we should also bear this fact in mind: that that consideration existed when the people voted on the three alternatives in the Referendum. In other words, when the people voted in favour of Confederation they did so knowing full well that there was no Newfoundland Parliament, and that there would be no Newfoundland Parliament, to consider in detail the Terms of the Confederation. As a matter of fact, the very fact that they did so vote reflected an implicit tribute of faith in the Commission Government, because it was in the Commissioners that by inference they invested the power to negotiate on their behalf the actual details of the Terms of the Confederation. Therefore, if that decision was taken by the people of Newfoundland with their eyes open, it seems to me, effective though the point is at first sight, that even that point is reasonably answered.
I think it is not a bad thing that the Amendment has been discussed. I think it is not a bad thing—indeed it is a very good thing—that there should be reflected forcibly and honestly in this House the minority opinion in Newfoundland, but it would be a disastrous thing if we went beyond that point and sought to reverse the freely given opinion of Newfoundland.
Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby) After a Debate has lasted 3½ hours it may well be supposed that there is not very much fresh to say upon the issue before the House. But I think there is still something to be said, and I should like to express, as briefly and as cogently as I can, my own reactions to the Debate. It seems to me that there are three issues involved in our discussion. The first is, have we reached the present position in the right way? The second question is, Is what we are now trying to do the right thing to do? The third question is, Assuming it is the right thing to do, is this the right time to do it? Those seem to me to be the three issues that are involved in this discussion.
I listened to the speech of the Secretary of State, and, as his speeches usually are, it was an extremely clear and competent and conciliatory speech; but at the end of it I had a feeling of complete dissatisfaction. I thought he scored many points, but failed to make the case, and that even if he had made the case, he had failed to justify the action proposed to be taken. He began by admitting that the position of Newfoundland was governed basically by Section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867. That Act lays down by what means the people of Newfoundland can change their status. It lays down the means. But, said the right hon. Gentleman, that does not mean that there were not other means. That is rather like saying that although the lease of a piece of property specifies that the duration of the tenancy shall be five years, that does not prevent the period from being six or seven or four years, or any other figure. I thought that was the most unconvincing argument I have heard in this House. It formed, however, the jumping-off point of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech.
Then he came to the second pillar of the situation, the 1933 Act. He quoted paragraph (a) of the Annex to the First Schedule to that Act, which says that the 1933 Act shall be suspended until Newfoundland is self-supporting, when Responsible Government will be restored. But, said he, there was another provision which affected the same point, and which provided that the suspension of constitutional government was to stand until the economic difficulties of Newfoundland had been overcome, and until Newfoundland made a request for the restoration 436 of self-government. And, said he, since there has been no request, then both provisions fall by the way. That seemed to be to me what I believe the lawyers call a complete non sequitur. If I have a debt to pay I am not excused from the obligation of paying it by the circumstance that the creditor has not sent in the bill. It still remains an obligation to pay, whether the bill is sent in or not. Indeed, for the circumstance that the Newfoundland people did not, and were not able to, ask for the restoration of self-government, our own Government here at home are responsible, for they failed to carry out the obligations under the Schedule to the 1933 Act, one of the two provisions referred to, which provided that Responsible Government should be restored when Newfoundland was again self-supporting—which she has been now for some years.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to make a series of particular answers to particular points by way of anticipating what the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) was likely to put. At the end of the whole series of points I was left feeling very much as one does feel when one recollects the story of the man who went into a “pub” and ordered a pint of beer. Having looked at it and meditated upon it for a moment or two, he said to the host behind the bar, “I am more hungry than thirsty, so do you mind if I have a couple of cheese sandwiches instead?” The obliging host thereupon substituted the two sandwiches for the pint of beer. The customer, having consumed them, proceeded to get up and walk away. The host behind the bar called out, “You have not paid for the sandwiches.” The customer said “I gave you the beer for them.” The man behind the bar said, “But you didn’t pay for the beer.” The customer said triumphantly, “Well I did not have it, did I?” I felt the same sense of frustration at the end of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument as the man behind the bar felt at the end of the argument I have just described.
The final point of justification by way of anticipation, as I think I may call it, because the attack had not then been launched, was that anyhow what we are here doing is being done in a democratic way. Now if there is any tyranny from which this country needs to be delivered it is the tyranny of the label. I am sometimes 437 inclined to reflect, when I see what use can be made of democratic devices, that it is easier to destroy freedom through the apparent mechanism of democracy than by the hostile assaults of the totalitarians—especially when I look at some of the activities of our modern Communists. I know our Government do not consist of Communists, but they appear to fall under the same delusion—that one can settle a problem by coining a phrase. But one does not. It is not necessarily a democratic way of settling a problem to get a bare majority one way or the other. Even the bare majority we have is not a bare majority to the people of Newfoundland, but a bare majority of those who took part in the vote. It is a minority of the total number of people of Newfoundland.
It is a common thing in our law here, and in our trade union practice, in the taking of decisions, and in estimating the majority required for taking them, to draw a sharp distinction between decisions which involve the maintenance of the status quo and decisions which involve a radical departure from it. For example, a Section of the Trade Union Act, 1913—I forget which precisely—provides that if the members of a trade union want to affiliate to an outside political party they must first of all establish a political fund. The law goes on to lay down that that can only be done by a majority of two-thirds of those voting on a resolution in terms satisfactory to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Our own Government, although they altered other trade union legislation, have not touched the 1913 Act. They have repealed the 1927 Act, which in some ways altered the 1913 Act, but that is all. That earlier Act of Parliament stands accepted by both sides of the House. And that Act recognises that if a decision is under contemplation which involves a radical change in the status quo it is reasonable to ask for more than a bare majority.
That is one case in point. I now give another. If one looks up the rules of any trade union in Britain—I think that if this is not universally true it is generally true—one finds different majorities prescribed for winding up a union than for starting one. One finds different majorities prescribed for effecting an amalgamation between two unions than the rules normally prescribe for conducting the ordinary business of the union. There 438 again we recognise that when we come to take a decision which means a great change in the form of a particular organisation, the decision ought not to be taken by a mere bare majority. Evidence is required that there is a general will—not merely a tiny majority will, but a general will—on the part of the people concerned to effect that radical, fundamental change. Therefore, I find myself unable to accept the view that a bare majority, on an issue of this fundamental importance, justifies what is proposed to be done.
That brings me to the third point—is this the right time to do it?
Mr. Levy The hon. Gentleman objects to the bare majority. Did he object in advance?
Mr. Brown No, it has taken me threeand-a-half hours to get into the Debate today to deal with it.
Mr. Levy Before the Referendum?
Mr. Brown I am saying that it has taken me three-and-a-half hours to get into the Debate today.
The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker) What about two-and-a-half years ago when a decision was made clear in this House?
Mr. Brown The Government must not seek to justify the whole range of decisions on the criterion of whether or not my party objected at the time.
Mr. Levy rose—
Mr. Brown I cannot give way again. What the hon. Gentleman means is that he is not satisfied with the answer. He has a perfect right to remain dissatisfied, just as I have every right to remain dissatisfied with the Bill that we are discussing.
To return to the issue: Is this the right time to do it? I should have thought that it was about as wrong a time to do it as could possibly be considered. Here is an appeal pending before the Privy Council. I thought, until I heard the discussion earlier, that if this Bill went through it would more or less automatically dispose of the appeal. That is why I interrupted the right hon. Member for West Bristol on that point when he was speaking. But I gathered 439 from what he said, and the concurrence of the Attorney-General, that although we pass this Bill, the appeal to the Privy Council will still lie. We do not know what the result will be, but it will still lie.
Of all the times for effecting a fundamental change in the status, character and relations of our oldest Dominion, I should have thought that the time just before they were presenting an appeal to the Privy Council was about the worst time of all for making that change. I should have thought that this argument would weigh with the Minister and hon. Members opposite—that the more fundamental the change proposed, the more desirable it is in the interests of both parties to the proposed new union that that union should be brought about with the maximum possible degree of unity and the maximum possible degree of dissent. I should have thought that that was so obvious as to be a maxim.
If there is reason to suppose that after the elections of next May when, in the ordinary way, Newfoundland would again have a representative Parliament, and that there would be likely to be a much greater degree of support for this proposed junction with Canada then, surely it would be well worth while waiting for four or five months to get that result. It would be worth while in our own interests, because, if we accept that delay, all the charges, whether right or wrong, made against us of lack of good faith—and whether right or wrong a lot of people believe them—would disappear, and the Newfoundland people would have the feeling that they were taking this decision through their own properly constituted machinery, and not having it gerrymandered on to them, if not forced on to them. I do not say that it is being forced on to them, but there is some support for the view that it is being gerrymandered on to them. All that element of dissent and bitterness would then disappear from the picture, and there would be possibly a generally agreed union as between the people of Canada and of Newfoundland.
On those three grounds, I think that this Bill is ill-considered in point of time, and wrong in what it does. I earnestly support the plea of the right hon. Member for West Bristol—I have to be care 440 ful not to get him confused with the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). That is a point of some substance.
Mr. Stanley We are poles apart.
Mr. Brow I want strongly to support this plea to the Government to help the House of the difficulty which is not of the House’s creation, but is the creation of the Government. It can do that by delaying action on this matter until the plea to the Privy Council is heard. I think that it is a bit grim to take away the right of appeal, just at the time when someone is about to exercise it. I think it well worth their while that the appeal should go through. I think it worth while by arrangement, if possible, to delay this Bill until after next May, when there may be some hope—and for all I know a good hope—that an agreed decision of the people of Newfoundland may be obtained for the policy which would divide them and us tonight.
Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury) As the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) said, at this time of the evening there are not many points which have not been threshed out. The House is not discussing the merits of these proposals for confederation, but I think that those of us who have spent some time in studying them feel that there are considerable merits in them for the benefit of both Newfoundland and Canada. I think that we are all disturbed to find that there is this misunderstanding among quite a considerable minority. At the same time, I feel that one of the facts which has emerged from this Debate is that the majority of the people of Newfoundland did, in fact, vote for confederation with Canada. That is a point which, I think, no one will deny.
It may have been that responsible government could have been restored, and that if they had fought an election on party lines, they might, as the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) pointed out, have got a narrow majority of two or three votes on the same issue. I do not, however, feel that such a result would have been more accurate than the Referendum. When we study the politics of other countries on an issue such as this of union or partition, we find that if it ever becomes a 441 party issue the results may last for years after the real issue is dead and finished with. I believe that in the Southern States of the U.S.A., the policy of that country was affected in not a very good way by the issue of union nearly a century ago.
When we consider the merits or demerits of having responsible government and an election on party lines or a Referendum, I think that the Government have done the right thing in putting this issue in a fair Referendum to the people of the country. One thing which we cannot escape is that when this proposal of the Government was put out about a year ago, there was in fact no reaction to it in this country or in Newfoundland. That is a most important point. I spent a few days in Newfoundland at the end of August last year, at the same time as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), and although I heard a lot about the merits and demerits of Confederation with Canada, I cannot remember at any time having had brought to my attention the point of this being the wrong constitutional way of putting this issue. I think that every opportunity was given at the time for the people of Newfoundland to make their objections to the procedure of a Referendum.
We have, I think, the undisputed fact that the majority of the people of Newfoundland voted for Confederation. It is a pity that there is this ill-feeling left among a very considerable minority of the people of that country. I think, therefore, that if the Government could do anything on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol and the hon. Member for Rugby and somehow clear this issue on a Privy Council appeal before Confederation becomes final, it would do a lot to satisfy the considerable minority, and that when the time for final Confederation comes, one would find the overwhelming majority of the people of Newfoundland, as of Canada, determined and certain that a Bill such as is before the House this evening is the best for both sides.
Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs) It is a very good thing that on this occasion we should be discussing a matter connected with the Dominions. Although, as my hon. Friend 442 the Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) pointed out, it is due to a rather anomalous relationship between the nations which comprise the British Commonwealth, it is all to the good that these matters should be debated here. I followed with great care the arguments adduced this evening by the supporters of the Amendment, but I am afraid I still do not find them convincing. I do not intend, at this late stage of the Debate, to go over those arguments bit by bit; it seemed to me that the hon. Member for Bexley put them in their proper perspective.
I do, however, want to add what voice I can in reinforcement of the argument about the appeal which is coming before the Privy Council. When I first heard that that appeal was to take place, I hoped that this Debate would not ensue at this time. I should not like to try to specify the feelings one has on such an occasion, but I think it is extremely unfortunate, to say the least, that we should be deciding a particular piece of legislation at a time when matters involved in it are subject to decision by the supreme judicial bench of the Commonwealth. I want, therefore, to add my voice to the appeal of the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) and others to the Government, that they should do their best, even now, to avoid a clash.
I rather deprecate one or two things which became apparent from speeches of supporters of the Amendment. Quite a number were inclined to beg the whole question—to assume that the way they were suggesting, was the way of justice and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) put it, of constitutional ethics. The very question at issue is which way is the proper way to achieve justice and to behave ethically, and we certainly cannot accept the view that those who support the Amendment have a monopoly of those particular attributes. I felt, too, that there was a great deal of exaggeration in many of the assertions that were made. For instance, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) and others stressed unduly the amount of bitterness that may result, and no doubt will result, from this decision. To some extent, bitterness always results from any major political decision, and if the decision had gone the other way there would have been 443 bitterness on the other side. It seems quite wrong to magnify the extent of that bitterness.
The junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) mentioned Mr. Crosbie. Mr. Crosbie was one of the leaders of the self-government movement, and immediately the result was declared he, together with one or two others, said, “Well, I was against confederation, but now we have decided for confederation I am going to begin working willingly as a supporter of confederation.” That attitude was, I am sure, taken by a very large number of those who voted against confederation; it is the attitude of democracy, and is not the kind of thing that it is wise to describe as “bitter.” I suggest that the amount of bitterness left after this decision is probably a great deal less than a number of speakers have tended to suggest.
I wish now to reinforce the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who put the decision as to the future of the people of Newfoundland in a very sound perspective. For half a century the people of Newfoundland have been pretty well unable to control their own economic fate. It was not until the war started that they were able, in recent years, to have anything like proper control over their own economic position, and that they could balance their Budget. Their former situation in which they were at the mercy of economic forces they could not control, has led to the workers in Newfoundland being in an unenviable position. I quote, because I was so struck with it myself, a sentence from a letter from a friend in Canada, a well qualified observer who knows Newfoundland and put it in this way: The Newfoundland fishermen had perhaps the lowest standard of living in the whole North American Continent. Now I can neither endorse nor challenge that; I am not competent to do either; but I put it before the House as a reminder, whether it is literally true or not, that the big underlying problem in Newfoundland was the very depressed standard of living of the ordinary working people there.
The people of Newfoundland are now joining Canada. They are not simply joining a Canada with different interests 444 from their own; they are not simply joining the Canada of the great industrial cities of Ontario and Quebec, the Canada of the Western prairies or of the British Columbian rivers. They are joining the Canada which includes a group of provinces with interests very similar to their own—the three Maritime Provinces. They will there find, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, a considerable community of interest. They will by no means be strangers entering a Dominion in which they are made to feel like newcomers, possibly half unwanted. I speak as a former resident in one of these Maritime Provinces when I say that they look forward very much to being associated with Newfoundland in the Dominion. I think that Canada will benefit from this confederation, in addition to finding their voice, as a group of Maritime Provinces in the national affairs of Canada, strengthened by the additional representation that Newfoundland will give to them in the Senate and in the House of Commons.
The best way to look at this question is from the point of view of the past and the future of Newfoundland. The vote of the Newfoundlanders represented a “Goodbye to all that.” As the hon. Member for Dagenham stressed, what they were voting against was the responsible Government of the years before 1933. What they voted for was a Canada which, in spite of one or two of the remarks of the junior Burgess for Oxford University, is treating them generously and fairly. I think the junior Burgess was a little ill-advised in one or two of his comments about the financial relationships between Canada and the new province. Dominion provincial relations in the field of finance are, of course, a major political question in Canada, continually discussed and canvassed, and the junior Burgess put that matter in a not very satisfactory perspective when he spoke only about the amount Newfoundland would be paying to Canada and the amount that Canada would be giving in subsidy to Newfoundland. The subsidies, are paid from the Dominion to the provinces, and, apart altogether from subsidies, in a confederation the Dominion has to make some arrangement for sharing the taxes. I presume that that was what the hon. Member was referring to, but that is a matter for continual discussion in Canadian politics.
Sir A. Herbert I merely said that that is the sort of point which ought to be discussed in the Newfoundland Parliament but is not going to be so discussed.
Mr. MacPherson I accept what the hon. Member has said. I have probably mistaken his argument. Any suggestion that there is unfairness or lack of generosity in the actual Terms would be quite wrong. It would be unfortunate, on this occasion when we are ushering Newfoundland into the great Dominion of Canada, to confine our discussion to legalistic issues, because such discussions could go on ad infinitum without any satisfactory conclusion being reached. We must take it that, by and large, the people of Newfoundland have expressed themselves pretty definitely in favour of confederation with Canada, and we must accept that the people of Newfoundland, who in the past have been buffeted by economic forces, believe that they are really doing the best for themselves by linking Newfoundland with a Dominion which has such great economic resources as Canada.
Mr. John McKay (Wallsend) Many points have been raised in this Debate that call for comment, such as constitutionalism, the Referendum and whether sufficient consideration has been given to the question of Newfoundland joining Canada. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). While we all acknowledge that he is a very able man and sometimes tells very nice stories, I found tonight that both his story and his speech were rather weak. He went into the question of the trade union movement in other parts of the world, but his whole speech emphasised the fact that each problem has to be treated on its merits. It is always possible, when someone points out how well things are done in one part of the world, to put the opposite point of view. The outstanding feature of the appeal which is pending at the moment against confederation is that however valid it may be, it has all been done in a reasonable and sensible way.
When we hear all this talk about constitutionalism, majorities and so forth, my mind goes back to the other constitutional problem dealt with by this House some time ago. When we consider the past history of the Conservative 446 Party, the attitude adopted by some Members opposite is rather remarkable. There may be a small constitutional problem involved in this issue, but we know that the party opposite allowed a very strong movement to develop which practically broke down the constitution of this country. It struck me as rather odd when the hon. Member for Queen’s University of Belfast (Professor Savory) took part in this Debate. We know that he has a nice personality and that he is sincere, but however sincere a person is, it does not follow that his opinions call for admiration. I was disappointed to find that the hon. Member, if he had power, would do to Newfoundland what was done to Ireland.
This Bill merely emphasises the desire for unity which exists throughout the world, both from the political and the social point of view. It is amazing to think that some Members never dream of taking decisions by means of a referendum when it is a question of getting much bigger unities, such as in the case of Western Union. On the other hand, it must be admitted that where it is practicable, where the subject matter is fairly clear and without side-issues and where ordinary people with intelligence can understand the problem, a referendum of some kind may be used effectively to get an intelligent result as far as the people are concerned. What is the position so far as Newfoundland is concerned? They have had two Referenda and a majority has been finally obtained. Figures can, of course, be manipulated to bolster up all kinds of issues relative to the subject matter, and we have had that sort of thing happening tonight, but the fact remains that the Referendum showed a result of 48 per cent. as against 52 per cent. I agree that the majority in favour of union with Canada is comparatively small, but the fact remains that the point at issue has been fully debated. This is the second Referendum and though the whole electorate is very small, 26,000 people refused to register any opinion at all. Instead of admitting that those 26,000 people are a reflection of a desire to permit unity with Canada, the opponents of this Bill try to use those people as if they were against unity. That is an example of how figures can be manipulated.
447 It is said that there is no legal question involved here, but that it is a question of the heart, as was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). We do not deal here with questions of the heart. We try to get an intelligent decision, and if there is anything at all in the position today which should encourage us in our efforts for unity it ought to be the division of the world itself. How can we expect to see the movement for greater unity prospering throughout the world, and in Western Germany in particular, if we cannot reach a decision for a small number of people totalling about 1,250,000 in all, who have already expressed their opinion. Not only has there been a Referendum, but the representatives of Newfoundland and Canada jointly have come to a definite decision to request this Parliament to bring in this Bill.
Despite the question of appeal, I have not heard in the discussion today any suggestion that our Government are acting unconstitutionally in bringing in this Bill. The action of the Government is taken at the request of the representatives of the two countries concerned and is not unconstitutional. Whatever technical questions are involved, the mere fact that the Government are not acting unconstitutionally indicates that whatever criticisms are brought forward are not of very great substance. I have the feeling that the opposition to this Measure is without reality and that its opponents have the feeling that we are not doing something seriously wrong in passing the Bill. The opposition to the Bill has not been expressed with any great intensity or deep-rooted feeling.
We come now to the question of appeal and the petition which has been signed by 50,000 people. All of us have experiences of petitions. If the nucleus of a community want a petition for some purpose or another, it is astonishing how easily signatures for it can be procured. We ought not to allow the fact of that petition to weigh very much with us. The point we must not lose sight of is that the representatives of the two countries concerned have requested this Bill, and a Referendum has indicated the real feelings of the people. On those Mgrounds we should do well to pass the Measure.
Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington) I rise to support the Amendment proposed by the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), and, however inadequately, I want to put up a fight for the freedom of choice of the people of Newfoundland whatever the consequences. I look upon the right to exercise that freedom as being much more important than anything else. In the Amendment the salient words are: for a surrender of sovereignty and a lasting change of status. I object to the surrender of sovereignty backed by a British Government, because the honour and integrity of the pledged word of Britain under a Socialist Government is at stake in this matter. In the last line of the Amendment there is a reference to the Legislature of Newfoundland. It is important to ask what is meant by the word “Legislature.” Although I have not got personal knowledge about it, I understand that this movement for confederation with Canada was carried through in a gerrymandering way, as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has said. Every conceivable device was used to try to get confederation. I am also told—
Mr. G. Thomas rose—
Sir W. Smithers No, I cannot give way.
Mr. Thomas Will the hon. Gentleman give an example?
Sir W. Smithers I was just going to give an example. It has been said here tonight that the confederationists were allowed the use of the wireless in Newfoundland while the anti-confederationists were not. I am told that every subtle device was used to get confederation across, and that those who were against confederation were not given a fair chance. There is all the difference between a Commission or Convention of Government and a Parliament elected by the people on the issue of Confederation. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) referred to a decision being taken in Canada, but I say the representatives of Newfoundland had no right to take any decision at all.
The Government of this country have got us into this awful mess. They are trying to get the best of all worlds and 449 whatever happens, a large proportion of the people of Newfoundland will be dissatisfied. I understand, too, that many people in Canada are dissatisfied. All this would not have happened if the people of Newfoundland had been allowed to settle it for themselves. In the first line of the Bill there are the words: by means of a Referendum, but I maintain that the Referendum was not in accordance with Letters Patent and was against the whole spirit of the way in which the Commission of Government was set up.
Too many bouquets have been thrown across the Floor of the House this afternoon. Although I do not think they meant it in this Bill, the Government cannot help inserting Socialistic ideas, and it is the same with everything they produce.
Mr. G. Thomas What about bulk purchase?
Sir W. Smithers The Government’s object is to eradicate all small units, be they small Dominions or small traders. The Prime Minister has ordered a purge in this country, to a limited extent, of Communists, because we do not want the Russians interfering with our internal affairs, yet the Minister, on his own acknowledgment, is interfering with the internal affairs of Newfoundland. If the matter were only left to the people of Newfoundland to decide for themselves, I should have nothing more to say.
The Bill is unjust, dictatorial and ultra vires. We heard the letters read out by the hon. Member for Oxford University, and it seemed to me that, perhaps unwittingly, the Government are trying to carry out the wish of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to liquidate the British Empire by inept legislation. The Minister in charge of the Bill calmly says he is a party to Newfoundland’s losing her sovereignty and becoming a Province of Canada. Suppose America said to this country that, as a condition of Marshall aid, we had to confederate with Argentina. What would the people of this country say? Newfoundland is a long way away, as has been said two or three times.
450 The case for the non-confederationists can be best summarised in the petition which they sent to this House. I am anxious to get that petition recorded in our records. Here it is:
“TO THE HONOURABLE THE COMMONS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND IN PARLIAMENT ASSEMBLED:
The HUMBLE PETITION of the undersigned people of Newfoundland SHOWETH as follows:—
1. Your Petitioners are loyal British subjects and qualified electors of the Dominion of Newfoundland.
2. In 1933 upon the request of the Legislative Council and Assembly of Newfoundland, the Letters Patent of 1876 and 1905 were suspended and new Letters Patent were issued bearing date January 30th, 1934, which provided for the administration of the Island until such time as it became self-supporting again.
3. The arrangements made for the administration of Newfoundland, during the period of the suspension of Letters Patent 1876 and 1905 clearly indicated that:—
‘It would be understood that as soon as the Island’s difficulties are overcome and the country is again self-supporting Responsible Government, on request from the people of Newfoundland would be restored.’
4. In 1948 the Newfoundland National Convention unanimously agreed that Newfoundland was and had been for several years self supporting and recommended that the people of Newfoundland be given the opportunity of requesting the restoration of Responsible Government or the retention of Commission of Government. But, contrary to this recommendation, plebiscites were held in 1948 in which an issue was made of the question of Confederation with Canada.
5. In the referendum of July 22nd, 1948, less than 43 per cent. of the total electorate voted for Confederation with Canada which percentage Your Petitioners hold is insufficient to justify any change in the Newfoundland constitution as it existed under Letters Patent 1876 and 1905.
6. Moreover Your Petitioners protest any official recognition of the results of the said referendum on the grounds that
(a) the said referendum was contrary to the letter and spirit of the Letters Patent 1934;
(b) it was a denial of the majority vote of the National Convention;
(c) it did not take into account Section 146 of the British North America. Act, 1867, wherein provision was made as to the procedure to be followed in the event of union between Canada and Newfoundland;
(d) it asked the electorate to commit their country to Confederation with Canada without any negotiation of terms;
(e) it circumvented the pledge given Newfoundland in 1933, relating to the restoration of Responsible Government.
YOUR PETITIONERS THEREFORE humbly pray
(a) that immediate provision may be made for the restoration to Newfoundland of Responsible Government as under Letters Patent 1876 and 1905 and in accordance with Letters Patent 1934;
(b) that no negotiations be undertaken or concluded for Union of Newfoundland with Canada, other than by representatives of a duly elected Government of the people of Newfoundland.
And as in duty bound Your Petitioners will ever pray etc.
I am proud to think that I have been able to read that petition for people more than 2,000 miles away who cannot be here to read it for themselves.
Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster) How many people signed that petition?
Sir W. Smithers About 50,000.
Mr. McAdam (Salford, North) How many were Communists?
Sir W. Smithers I have here two original sheets of the petition. It is obvious from the signatures that they were not very well-educated people, but humble people, who definitely were loyal to our King, country and Empire. I will read this out again, because there has been very much said about the Referendum: Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray:
(a) that immediate provision may be made for the restoration to Newfoundland of responsible government as under Letters Patent, 1876 and 1905, and in accordance with Letters Patent, 1904;
(b) that no negotiations be undertaken or concluded for union of Newfoundland with Canada, other than by representatives of a duly elected government of the people of Newfoundland. And as in duty bound Your Petitioners will ever pray,”—etc.
Quite naturally, at this late hour the best parts of what would have been my speech have already been made much better than I could have made them, by the hon. Member for Queen’s University, Belfast (Professor Savory). The final vote was taken as to the form of ballot which should be submitted to the people. The Convention decided that the people should be asked to choose between continuation of the Commission form of government and restoration of Responsible Government. A Motion that Confederation with Canada should be included on the ballot was voted down by an overwhelming majority. One would have thought that such a recommendation 452 made by the duly elected representatives in the Convention of the people of Newfoundland would be accepted and acknowledged by the British Government, but this was not the case. Instead of, and in face of, what the Convention decided, His Majesty’s Government insisted on the issue of confederation being placed on the ballot paper. I have a note here to ask the Minister to deny or to confirm that, but he has already acknowledged that he used his influence, in fact he more or less ordered, that that should be put into the ballot.
Reference has been made to the vote given at the two Referenda. I am not going to repeat that matter here again, but even the second Referendum was, I am told, gerrymandered and pushed in a most unfair way. I ask whether such an insignificant majority can be regarded as sufficient for signing a matter of such vital importance.
I want to quote something which the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mackenzie King, told the delegation sent from Newfoundland, in January, 1947, to discuss possible terms of confederation. He said that should the people of Newfoundland indicate clearly and beyond all possibility of misunderstanding their will that Newfoundland should become a Province of Canada on the basis of the proposed arrangement, the Canadian Government, subject to the approval of Parliament—which means, of course, this Parliament—would, for its part, be prepared to take the necessary constitutional steps to make union effective at the earliest practicable date.
Could we regard such an insignificant majority of voters in an election as being a sufficient majority to decide such a vital matter as this? Could we, in the words of the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mackenzie King, regard it as showing clearly “and beyond all possibility of misunderstanding,” that the people of Newfoundland desired to confederate with Canada, remembering always that in the election in question the confederators secured only 43 per cent. of the total registered voters? As an example, reference has been made to organisations in this country, whether cricket clubs or trade unions, where a vital decision of this kind is taken not on a four per cent. majority but on a two thirds majority. This small majority is 453 not sufficient reason for the Government to bring in this Bill.
A great deal has been said about the Commission which has ruled Newfoundland for 15 years. In February, 1934, the Commission Government took office with with the avowed undertaking of rehabilitating the country and lifting the people out of their difficulties. This is outlined very definitely in that section of the legislation which says: It would be understood that as soon as the Island’s difficulties are overcome and the country is again self-supporting, Responsible Government on request from the people of Newfoundland would be restored. Again come the words, “request from the people.” I say that that has not yet been legally made. It can only be made by a freely elected Parliament of Newfoundland.
A great disappointment awaited the people, and I know the difficulties that the Commission Government had. Instead of their country being rehabilitated, the very opposite took place. The number of people existing on the dole ration was increasing from month to month. In 1939 one-third of the entire population were reduced to the dole level. As to the dole assistance, it was financed by Newfoundland itself, and some 20 million dollars which came from Britain were used to pay the interest on their national debt. The actions of the Commission Government were summed up in a book written by Mr. Thomas Lodge, who served on the Commission for three years. The book is entitled “Dictatorship in Newfoundland,” and it contains the following passage: The unpardonable sin of the British Government was to deprive the people of Newfoundland of their own Government and then fail to give them that measure of rehabilitation which was promised. In 1939, owing to the war, Newfoundland had a tremendous revival. The American and Canadian Governments set up military bases, the demand for their exports grew and revenues soared, so that in a short time Newfoundland was back on her feet. But Newfoundlanders were keenly aware of the greater advantage which they would have had if they had been able to control their own destinies. For instance, under their own Government the large tracts of their territory which were given away to America for bases would not have been given away 454 without some quid pro quo. There could have been arrangements made for preferential treatment for Newfoundland products to go to America. The Newfoundland Government put a ceiling on wages. If a people’s government had been in control of Newfoundland in accordance with the terms of the 1933 Act she would today have been one of the most prosperous little countries in the world. It is worth remembering this, because the apparent basis on which Newfoundland is now asked to surrender her country is that she as a country is not able to carry on alone.
I have been allowed to read the terms of the petition which has been sent over here. Fears have been expressed about the reaction in Canada if this Bill is defeated. I am told on good authority that the Canadians are not altogether unanimous about this Bill. I could give many reasons for that statement, but for the sake of brevity I want to quote part of an article which appeared in the “Globe and Mail” of Toronto on 14th January this year. That is an important newspaper. It says: The arguments in favour of Sir Alan’s proposals are very strong. that refers, of course, to the junior Burgess for Oxford University— The first is supplied by the British North America Act of 1867, Canada’s constitution. Section 146 says in part: ‘It shall be lawful … on addresses from the Houses of Parliament of Canada and from … the respective Legislatures of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia to admit these … Provinces, or any of them, into the Union.’ This procedure was followed when the Pacific and Atlantic coast Provinces named in the section were admitted to Canada in 1871 and 1873. It is not being followed in Newfoundland’s case because no Newfoundland Legislature now exists. Instead of an address from an elected Legislature of the island, the British Parliament has before it a recommendation for union from the Commission which has ruled Newfoundland for nearly 15 years. That Commission was established by Britain at the request of the people of the island, when Newfoundland went on the rocks financially and needed British help. It was agreed at the time that when the period of British guardianship came to an end, which is now about to happen, Responsible Government’ would be restored in the island. The following is important: Many are under the impression that Newfoundland with ‘responsible’ rule as it existed before 1934, had a status somehow less exalted than, say, Canada or Australia. This was not so. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 described the partner nations of the 455 Commonwealth as ‘autonomous,’ ‘equal,’ and ‘freely associated.’ It named Newfoundland as one of them. Newfoundland thus had exactly the same dignity as Canada and the same freedom to appoint its own ambassadors, go to war or remain at peace, and otherwise behave as a fully independent nation. The procedure by which it is now proposed to unite Newfoundland with Canada, it is quite clear, violates the B.N.A. Act; it violates the 1934 Agreement between Britain and the island; and it ignores, or at any rate, treats as of no consequence, the sovereignty of Newfoundland. Countries which arrive at independent democratic maturity as the island did, do not usually have their future decided for them by non-representative Commissions set up by an outside authority. I ask the Minister—if it is possible under a Socialist Government—to let Britain do the honest thing and do it in the right way. Let Newfoundland have a general election on the confederation issue, let them elect a responsible government, and let them decide for themselves whether they wish to federate with Canada or not.
Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central) I esteem myself a fortunate man to follow the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). The hon. Member hypnotises and fascinates me, but he must pulverise the Opposition. I can hardly believe when I listen to him that I am in the twentieth century. The hon. Member must have frightened the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) more than he did me. The hon. Gentleman said that he was speaking for those who could not speak for themselves. The Newfoundlanders have not been slow in speaking for themselves. I thought for a moment that he was dealing with darkest Africa.
Sir W. Smithers I meant to say that I wanted to get the views of the non-confederationists here in the Mother of Parliaments and to get the Government to do the decent thing for once.
Mr. Thomas I leave the hon. Member to his meditations. We might bear in mind the speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol which I considered to be an outstanding contribution to our Debate. The right hon. Gentleman did not have an easy task. He paid tribute to my right hon. Friend while at the same time expressing appreciation of the sincerity of the junior Burgess for Oxford 456 University (Sir A. Herbert). I happen to disagree with the junior Burgess for Oxford University, but since the whole House must be aware that this confederation is to come about, we ought to consider it our main purpose to see that it is brought about with the minimum of ill-feeling afterwards. It is easy for us in this House to stir up the cesspools of bitterness, rancour and hatred over there, and the junior Burgess for Oxford University rather let himself down when he started quoting letters which were written in deep passion and which might well be forgotten with the passing of time but which will stand on record and perhaps be repeated in the Press over there and broadcast over the radio there tomorrow. It cannot conceivably do anyone any good at all for such letters to be read here tonight.
Sir A. Herbert They ought to move this House.
Mr. Thomas By moving this House when the hon. Gentleman is not going to vote against this Bill—he is wise not to—
Sir A. Herbert I am.
Mr. Thomas In his speech the hon. Gentleman led me to believe that he was not going to vote against it. I listened very carefully, but obviously I made a mistake. We have tonight heard expressions which I felt were quite uncalled for. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) said that the honour and good name of Britain was at stake and that in some way or another there was a breach of confidence on the part of His Majesty’s Government with the people of Newfoundland. That is not so. Indeed, the good name of the Government and the British people was put behind the Referendum, and if we were now to go back upon the understanding which the Newfoundland people had when they took part in that Referendum, we should justify the charge that we were committing a dishonourable act. The Newfoundland people have themselves expressed a desire to join with their Canadian brethren. Last autumn I happened to be in the Maritime Provinces of Canada—I much appreciated the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. M. MacPherson)—and there is an overwhelming pleasure 457 among the people there that their brethren from Newfoundland have decided to join with them. After all, they are much closer physically than Scotland is to the South of England. They have a ferry service, trade between them is free and easy and they have ties which bind them together, and it is logical that the Newfoundland people should have voted in this way.
Sir P. Hannon They suffer in regard to their communications.
Mr. Thomas No doubt they suffer like the Principality in that regard. Newfoundland has had a very troubled history. Her economic history is not one about which anyone in this House can feel very happy.
Sir W. Darling But we have not cast Wales away.
Mr. Thomas The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) will provoke me if he talks about Wales.
Sir W. Darling Because Newfoundland has had an unhappy economic history, the British Government are casting her away. Is not the same argument applicable to Wales, which has had an unhappy economic history? Should Britain cast Wales away?
Mr. Thomas The hon. Member should not get quite so excited, and he should leave those hon. Members who know more about Wales to talk about Wales. We shall do so, if we are called upon to do it.
Mr. Gordon-Walker Or without.
Mr. Thomas Yes, or without. However, there is no suggestion of casting away Newfoundland. The choice before the people was quite clear; they voted, and at the time they accepted it as binding. The hostility has been whipped up since by some interested parties, whoever they may be, and the talk of gerrymandering—which the hon. Member for Orpington seems to take as his favourite slogan in life and which he threw across here tonight—can quite easily be thrown back to the people who have whipped up a campaign after an election which they had anticipated would result the other way.
There was no protest from anyone in this House that it was unknown when the ballot would take place in Newfoundland. There was considerable 458 publicity in the Press of this country as well as that of Canada and Newfoundland, and yet I did not receive a letter from my constituents about it, and I have many who have relations in the Maritime Provinces of Canada and in Newfoundland. Those people felt then that it was the fairest thing to do, and so did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. I believe there is a brighter future for Newfoundland as a result of this Measure. Her peoples have congregated largely along the coasts, but she has lacked the facilities which the Canadian people have been able to enjoy and now her education service, her social services and, I trust, her transport services, will all receive due improvement and the vast mineral resources believed to be in Newfoundland might well be thoroughly developed by the Canadian Government.
The alternative might have been for Newfoundland to leave the Empire and join the United States. As some hon. Members know, that is by no means a novel suggestion; indeed, it was a topic of very lively discussion in parts of Canada. I am delighted that Newfoundland has decided to join with the Dominion of Canada. Let no one talk of the disintegration of the British Empire. This Bill is a further demonstration of the great ties that there are between all the members of the British Empire and it is an indication that His Majesty’s Government act in concert and in step with our kinsfolk overseas.
Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South) I am sure that this Debate may seem to some to have been unduly prolonged, but it has been prolonged, and I am prolonging it, because there is a sensibility in the House that what we are doing is something which all of us would prefer not to do. That was implicit, I think, in the speech of the Minister as I think it was implicit in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). I have listened to the greater part of the Debate and I do not think anyone here can have a completely easy conscience in this matter. Much has been said with which I would agree.
The speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) had a very large measure of truth in it, which was supported 459 by the observations of the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas). There is an affinity between New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Maritime Provinces generally and it will be a strengthening to them in Canada if they have the support of the great island of Newfoundland. It will help to maintain the balance, which is sometimes a little distorted, between Central Canada and Western Canada and the older provinces. With that I agree, but that does not wholly divorce from my mind the unsatisfactory nature of the actual arrangement to which we seem to be committing ourselves.
Some very offensive and, I think, improper things have been said in this House this afternoon. I was particularly disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) refer to a great deal of corruption in the civic life of the island of Newfoundland. That was quite improper because I am afraid that corruption is not confined to Newfoundland, and to say that a great deal of it was in that island, was unworthy of the hon. Member. He was rather supported by the hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) and it was reiterated by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. I have been in Newfoundland and I think I know something of the Newfoundlanders. I served with the Newfoundland Regiment in the 9th (Scottish) Division when many hundreds died on the Somme and I served on the Gallipoli Peninsula with them and the 29th Division. I will not allow hon. Members to suggest that in this little island, which made such manifest sacrifices, corruption is any greater than in the ranks of the party of which the hon. Member for Dagenham was at one time a more distinguished ornament than he is today. I think it an improper observation and I think it is resented by all hon. Members of this House and will be resented by the people of Newfoundland.
Mr. Parker It is still true.
Sir W. Darling To suggest that the setting up of the type of Commission Government which there is in Newfoundland is due to corruption is just the improper and prejudiced and jaundiced observation one would expect from someone who did not know and apparently formed the opinion about it before he went there.
460 Whether we like it or not, His Majesty’s Government definitely committed themselves to the proposition that Newfoundland would have Commission Government and after that it would have self-government. We committed ourselves quite positively to the restoration of self-government and I do not understand the Government which has engaged in giving self-government to nations which have never had it—Burma, Pakistan, India, Ceylon and many others—hastily thrusting this upon peoples who have never had self-government before, but saying to Newfoundland, which has served us in two wars, “You were a Colony and a Dominion, a co-equal with the other Dominions, and now you are under a Commission Government and you are not to get back to self-government, but to go down the scale.” While Burma rises, India rises, Pakistan rises, Ceylon rises, this old self-governing Dominion will never again have self-government, but is being deprived of that right by His Majesty’s Government in this Bill this evening.
Mr. Parker Nonsense.
Sir W. Darling Although dead, Burns speaks: Facts are chiels that winna ding. This was a Colony which became a Dominion, had self-government, was promised self-government again but is not getting self-government. That is the impregnable, unshakable and undeniable fact and that is what the minority—I agree that it is a minority—in Newfoundland feel is a bitter blow. They have been faithful and loyal to this country and have accepted our word. They gave up self-government but they were promised, or at least believed it was a promise, that the process would be self-government to Commission Government, then back to self-government—[An HON. MEMBER: “If they wanted it.”] An hon. Member interjects, “If they want it.” Does anyone believe that a nation which has once had self-government would say “No,” whatever the difficulties and problems and would not gladly accept self-government again? I know of no Government in the history of the world of what that could be said.
Mr. Levy Since the hon. Member asks whether I know of, or could conceive of any case, I reply that I know of Newfoundland.
Sir W. Darling The hon. Member’s knowledge is recently formed and very infirm. Will anyone assert that a nation which has once had self-government would willingly say, “We do not want it”? Scotland did not, Wales did not and certainly Newfoundland has not done so. By a piece of manipulation and by a piece of maladroit handling——
Mr. Parker What about corruption now?
Sir W. Darling —by a piece of manipulation, by ignoring the importance of the right way and the right hour and by maladroit handling, His Majesty’s Government have placed themselves in this very difficult position. But whatever the difficulties, we do not better them by pretending that Newfoundland does not want self-government. Newfoundland dearly desires self-government. I need not tell hon. Members how true that is. Only in recent months we have seen a nation which was denied the right of self-government for centuries going through untold and unimaginable self-sacrifice to re-assert it—I refer to the State of Israel. If those facts have obscured the vision of hon. Members opposite, I am astonished, but they have not obscured the fact in my mind that Newfoundland, having once had self-government, desires it still. I will not have it said that this is Newfoundland’s own free choice in this matter.
What can we do? We can at least practise a tactic which is a valuable one. I see no hurry about this. The late Lord Melbourne asked “Must we really do anything?” And he was one of the greatest of Prime Ministers. There is a virtue in delay as a policy, though not in delay which lets time go past while one does not know what to do. There is a time when the pot should simmer, a time when the pot should be taken off the fire or allowed to boil. I suggest that this is a time when there is virtue in delay. There is indecision and uncertainty among a considerable number of the people of Newfoundland. There is nothing in this that cannot be bettered by the passage of a little time. It is wonderful how time straightens out difficulties and leads to the disentanglement of problems.
I think that the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) was right in putting forward the view that the 462 May Elections might well be a point at which a further decision should be taken. In any case there cannot be any great harm in the Government delaying this Bill for a matter of at least six months. Nothing can be gained by hectic urgency. This is not a matter of the crack of doom. We have seen more important matters delayed. There is a ripeness in human judgment. Let us see whether we get the ripeness of judgment of the people of Newfoundland by delay. I consider this policy of delay is one that the Government might well consider and would be indeed well advised to follow.
The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker) It would be just to say that practically without exception, the issue in this Debate has been one of method and not of objective. That was made clear in the helpful and statesmanlike speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). It would be right to say that we are dealing more with a skirmish on his right flank than any direct attack on the Government in this matter.
The points which I have to answer are mainly legal, with one political point. The legal points are of great importance. There is one point of fact which has been brought out by the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). He threw about loose charges of gerrymandering and sharp practice and corruption. When charged to give examples he quoted one and said that there had been a monopoly of broadcasting in the island for those in favour of Confederation. I need hardly assure the House that that is a totally untrue statement. The hon. Member used the word “gerrymandering” in a very extraordinary sense. It is possible to gerrymander every form of voting except one, which is the Referendum. The Referendum does not have boundaries which can be played about with. It seemed typical of his speech that he was so wildly and loosely using carefully chosen words.
There is an important point as to why the British North America Act, 1867, was not used. That point was made by the hon. Member for Queen’s University, Belfast (Professor Savory), the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) and the hon. Member for Orpington. It is really 463 not a question of our decision, of the decision of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom. Nor is it, as has been alleged several times, due to lack of a Legislature in Newfoundland. The reason why the British North America Act has not been used is the want of an address from the Canadian Parliament. That Act cannot be set in motion without an Address from the Canadian Parliament. There is not to be and there has not been such an address and the reason was made very clear——
Sir A. Herbert I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but in the Preamble it says: … House of Commons of Canada in Parliament assembled, have submitted an address to His Majesty. …
Mr. Gordon-Walker But not an address in connection with the British North America Act of 1867. That is the address to introduce the Bill we are now introducing. What we shall not have, is an address from the Canadian Parliament invoking the Act of 1867 and the reason for that was made clear by Mr. St. Laurent, the Prime Minister of Canada, in the House of Commons and it is quoted in the Hansard of Canada for 8th February. He made the position clear. He says the constitutional position has developed since 1867. The situation has changed. In 1867 it was accepted in the United Kingdom and Canada that His Majesty’s—or rather Her Majesty’s—prerogatives could be applied and used in Canada on the advice of the Privy Council here in London. Mr. St. Laurent says that since then, there has been a constitutional development in which His Majesty’s prerogatives in Canada are exercised on the advice of the Canadian Ministers and it would therefore be improper for Canada to ask this House to operate under that Act, under which the King’s prerogatives would be used on the advice of the Privy Council in England.
Mr. W. J. Brown May I point out that that is the precise opposite to the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. P. Noel-Baker I quoted the Prime Minister of Canada as saying exactly that; the hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me.
Mr. Brown In the first few words of the speech by the right hon. Gentleman he said that the King by Order in Council could use other methods than the methods prescribed in that Act.
Mr. Gordon-Walker Of course the King could use, and so can this House of Commons if it preferred to, use other methods. The point is that we cannot use the British North America Act, 1867. That we cannot do without an address from Canada and there will be no such address.
Mr. Brown Then why did the Minister revoke it?
Mr. Gordon-Walker If the hon. Gentleman will read the report of the speeches of my right hon. Friend and myself, he will find that they will coincide exactly, as is right and proper. The whole thing was established as long ago as 1930, when in the same way Canada did not invoke the British North America Act of 1867, although they wanted a certain part of it changed.
The second of these very important legal points is whether the Government and this Parliament have a legal obligation to restore Responsible Government. It seems to me that the attacks made on the Government really rest upon this point. It comes down to this, Was there an obligation, or as the hon. Member for Queen’s University said—echoed by the hon. Member for Orpington and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling)—a “solemn pledge” binding the Government of this country to restore self-government, Responsible Government, to Newfoundland? There is no question that the Newfoundland Act, 1933, and the Schedule to it, did undertake that Responsible Government would be restored on two conditions; one on request from Newfoundland and the other when Newfoundland was self-supporting. The second of these does not come into operation if the first is not satisfied.
The hon. Member for Oxford University went to considerable lengths in explaining why there should not be these words, “on request” in this Statute. But there they are. The words are there and they must be given a meaning. If we say that self-government will be restored on request, it automatically involves one in the conclusion that there must be some other means than self-government by which a request may be made.
Mr. Brown What nonsense.
Mr. Gordon-Walker It seems so to me, otherwise there is no meaning in the words, “on request.” If self-government is restored it cannot be requested.
There must be some other machinery than self-government. The question, of course, is by what method? There could be a petition and so forth. We agree with what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) said about this; that we must proceed, not by ragged petitions, but by regular and proper legal methods. There has been a consensus of opinion that the right way would be a national Convention which should put down suggestions, good suggestions, for a Referendum. This opinion that there should be a national Convention did not start with this Government, but with the Coalition Government. It was announced in this House in December, 1943, and in another place by the Secretary of State in 1944. It was also strongly supported by the hon. Member for Oxford University. He clearly had in mind at that time that it was right to set up some means other than self-government by which the people should be consulted and that it should be possible for them to choose self-government or something else. On 16th December, 1943, the hon. Gentleman said: We should announce, I suggested, that, say, two or three years after the war, or from now if you like, we intended to restore full self-government to Newfoundland unless by a plebiscite one year before that they had chosen some other form of government.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1943; Vol. 395, c. 1783.] That is exactly the policy of His Majesty’s Government.
Sir A. Herbert I bad in mind some slight modification or possible extension.
Mr. Gordon-Walker I think the hon. Gentleman had in mind Confederation with this country on the Ulster plan. That he would regard as self-government, but Confederation with Canada he would not regard as self-government. He used the word “plebiscite” instead of the word “referendum.”
Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries) Is it not one of the points there that if they had a Confederation with this country, it would always be possible for them later to ask for their independence? What possibility have we now of carrying out 466 our original pledge if they are confederated with Canada?
Mr. Gordon-Walker I do not know that any part of the United Kingdom has the right to separate itself from the United Kingdom. I doubt whether the County of Kent has a right to separate itself from the United Kingdom. In so far as there is a right to do that, there is a right to do it from Canada.
The other legal question upon which the right hon. Gentleman laid a great deal of weight is that of the appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman agreed that from the legal point of view our position is right. I make no pretence to be a lawyer, but as I understand the matter and as I am advised, there is no real danger of the fears—I almost said the wishes—of the junior Burgess for Oxford University being fulfilled; that there will be chaos and bitterness if this Bill is passed and then a decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be given in favour of the petitioners. As I am advised, there is no real doubt that if Parliament passes this Bill, it will become law and will be effective to achieve what is contemplated. We are really dealing with a political and not a judicial matter. The responsibility is Parliament’s. It cannot be dodged. We must make up our own sovereign mind on this matter. On that I think the hon. Gentleman agrees with us.
He then raised two questions. He said that there was a distinction between the moral and the legal issues. He said there were two questions upon the answers to which his views on this matter at a later stage would depend. He suggested that we should consider postponing the date of confederation. I must make it clear that we cannot hold out any hope of that being possible. Dates have to be assumed when agreements are made. Such things as adjustments of Income Tax and other taxes have to be worked out and balanced. That can only be done if a date is assumed by the two sides. The Terms which are a Schedule to the Bill actually contain this date. They do not contain any provision for changing the dates. If at this point the date of bringing the confederation into operation were postponed. 467 there would undoubtedly be chaos and bitterness in more than one country.
I should like to point out that the appeal came very late in the day. It has been represented by a good many Members as if this appeal was started and the Government rushed in with a Bill in order to get in before a decision could be taken. In fact, this appeal to the Judicial Committee—or the whole case—is challenging acts done as long ago as 1947. Even if we did postpone the date of confederation to another date there is nothing to stop some other case being started just at the end and the same arguments being used all over again. There would be no guarantee at all. I should like to make it clear that we have thought this matter over and that it is no good holding out hopes. On the question whether the hearing could be expedited, of course the decision in such a matter is not for the Government. If it turns out to be possible, my right hon. Friend will do everything in his power to secure expedition. But, again, the time is getting very short. We have only a month to run. If it turns out to be possible to expedite the matter we will examine the possibility straight away and we will do everything in our power. I think that that deals with the main legal points.
There are two political points. There is the question whether we were right to put confederation on the ballot paper. That was a political decision which we took. There is no question of law in that. The hon. Member for Queen’s University challenged us. He asked what right had His Majesty’s Government to put this matter on the ballot paper. If hon. Members take it as a matter of right, there is no doubt that we had the right to put it on the ballot. This national Convention which was set up was not a Parliament. It was set up expressly to advise His Majesty’s Government on what sort of referendum or other means to use to consult the people of Newfoundland. The decision to be taken in the light of those recommendations was one which had to be taken by the Government here. We could not have hidden behind that national Convention. The responsibility was ours. There is no question that where legal right is concerned we had a duty to make 468 up our minds about what should go on the ballot paper.
Whether we were justified in putting confederation on the ballot paper is another matter. There is no doubt whatever that we were right. We had a legal right to do this. Among many considerations that weighed with us in deciding to put the issue of confederation as a third choice before the people was this: when the delegation from that national Convention came to the United Kingdom to talk to the then Secretary of State in May, 1947, it sought assurances from him on behalf of the national Convention whether, if there were a strong minority in the Convention wanting a choice to be put on the paper, we would agree to do so. The Secretary of State was asked that in terms when that delegation representing the Convention came over here. The Secretary of State agreed that if there were a strong minority he would pay sympathetic attention to its claims to have its view put on the ballot paper. Therefore, to a very large extent we were pledged. The vote of 16 votes against 29 is certainly a large minority.
The other reason that weighed with us more than any other was that if we had refused to put confederation on the ballot paper we would undoubtedly have been depriving a large number of people—a large minority or a large majority, because we could not judge at that point—of their right to express their opinion. There was no doubt from all the available evidence that there was very strong support for Confederation with Canada. Even if it had turned out to be the other way, and there had been a majority in favour of Responsible Government, it still would have been a right decision to put confederation on the ballot paper. As it is, that decision was completely justified in the event, but one cannot judge the event beforehand and we might have guessed wrong. Even if there had been a little in it the other way, I have no doubt that it was a proper decision to put confederation on the ballot paper.
There has been a certain amount of talk about the size of the vote, and a suggestion that a vote of this size was not sufficient. I agree very strongly with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol that here we had a choice and that we had either to accept the majority or the minority view. It is better 469 to accept the majority than the minority. Any tricks about a two-thirds majority mean, in fact, that we would be accepting the minority against the majority. Democratic organisations, and especially our sort of Parliamentary democracy, depend upon clear and simple majorities on clear and simple issues placed before the people. Whether the vote was sufficient for confederation was really a question for Canada to settle. Confederation was a treaty between Canada and Newfoundland, and Canada had to decide, among other things, how big the minority in Newfoundland was.
For the United Kingdom, it was only necessary that there should be a majority for us to know what were the views of Newfoundland on this question, whether the people wanted confederation or some other system of government. The variant of this argument that the vote was not big enough is that confederation was actually rejected, and one or two hon. Members argued that, because it was rejected in the first ballot, it was rejected altogether and that there should not have been a second ballot. The Government made it clear from the beginning, and long before the first Referendum, that a second would be held if there was no clear majority in the first. Therefore, that argument does not really hold water. In any case, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) said, it is very late in the day to bring up that sort of argument. Why was not this said at the time, about two and a half years ago? It seems to me that the hon. Member for Rugby was embarrassed by the question that was put to him, and that he took evasive action.
Mr. W. J. Brown The Minister cannot complain that I did not give him advice two and a half years ago, considering the consistent and uniform way in which he rejects my advice about everything.
Mr. Gordon-Walker But the hon. Gentleman is still giving us advice.
Mr. Brown And still the hon. Gentleman rejects it.
Mr. Gordon-Walker We may still reject the advice of the hon. Gentleman, but I think his advice will be stronger if it is given in time, and before the referee has given his decision. After 470 the referee has given his decision is a bad time to give advice, and, after all, there was plenty of opportunity—some 30 months—in which he could have given that advice. If there was very strong feeling in Newfoundland, as has been alleged, during that period, I have no doubt that it would have reached him or someone else who is interested in the matter.
I think it is right and fair to say that the Government’s action is legally correct, that we have a perfectly legal case, and that ours was a politic decision. It is difficult to get these things exactly right, but, on the balance of things altogether, we think this is the best way of achieving the objectives which are almost unanimously accepted in this House. I think it is most important that we should have a unanimous decision and vote of the House on this matter. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol has said, it would be a very grave matter for the House to reject this Bill, and it would also be a very grave matter if there was an important vote against the Bill or in favour of the Amendment.
This is a democratic arrangement which has been reached after a great deal of public discussion, including discussions between Governments, affecting a number of countries within the Commonwealth. It is carrying to fruition, though by slightly different means than were foreseen earlier, the objectives foreseen 80 years ago in the British North America Act, and the spirit of that Act is now being carried out.
There has been a certain tendency among some hon. Members to talk as if Newfoundland were being cast away and sold into slavery by confederating with Canada. I hope that, rather than that view, we shall take the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas). I think the right way of looking at this is to regard it as an ampler and fuller life which is being opened out for Newfoundland in the Commonwealth. Newfoundland has decided between two sorts of self-government. It has decided to be a self-governing Province within the Confederation of Canada rather than to be a self-governing nation, and a very small one, in a dangerous and difficult world. It is not choosing between slavery and 471 self-government, but between one sort of self-government and another, both of them within the Commonwealth.
Sir W. Darling One sovereign and the other not.
Mr. Gordon-Walker Certainly, but it made the choice in that matter. We must think of the future of Newfoundland not as being cast away, which is an extraordinary term to use, almost implying that Canada is some kind of dustbin. We must regard Newfoundland as a Province in a great Commonwealth country, in which it will play a continuing and very distinguished part, which the
people of Newfoundland have already played in our Commonwealth—and particular reference has been made to the part which the people of Newfoundland have played in two great wars. I think that, having taken this decision, the people in Newfoundland will play an even greater and stronger part than in the past in the Commonwealth to which they and all the rest of us are very proud to belong.
Question put, “That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.”
The House divided: Ayes, 217; Noes, 15.
Division No. 71.] AYES [8.56 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Fairhurst, P. McEntee, V. La T.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Farthing, W. J. McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Albu, A. H Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Foot, M. M. Mackeson, Brig. H. R.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Forman, J. C. McKinlay, A. S.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell) Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Maclean, N. (Govan)
Awbery, S. S. Fraser, T. (Hamilton) McLeavy, F.
Ayles, W. H. Freeman, J. (Watford) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Balfour, A. Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Barton, C. Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Battley, J. R Gibbins, J. Mainwaring, W. H.
Berry, H. Gibson, C. W. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bing, G. H. C Gilzean, A. Mann, Mrs. J.
Binns, J Glanville, J, E (Consett) Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)
Blyton, W. R. Gordon-Walker, P. C. Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Boardman, H. Grey, C F. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W. Grierson, E. Mathers, Rt. Hon. George
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Medland, H. M.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Messer, F.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hale, Leslie, Middleton, Mrs. L
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Hall, Rt. Hon Glenvil Mitchison, G. R.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T Hamilton, Lieut. Col. R. Moody, A. S.
Burden, T. W. Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Callaghan, James Hardy, E. A Morley, R.
Carmichael, James Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Champion, A, J Herbison, Miss M. Murray, J. D.
Chetwynd, G. R. Hewitson, Capt. M. Nally, W.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G Hobson, C. R. Naylor, T. E.
Cobb, F. A. Holman, P. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Cocks, F. S. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Collick, P. Horabin, T. L. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)
Collindridge, F. Hubbard, T. Oldfield, W. H.
Collins, V. J. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)
Colman, Miss G. M. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Paling, W. T. (Dewsbury)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hutchinson, H L. (Rusholme) Pargiter, G. A.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K (Camb’well, N.W.) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Parker, J
Corlett, Dr. J. Isaacs, Rt Hon G. A Parkin, B. T.
Cove, W G. Janner, B. Paton, J. (Norwich)
Crawley, A. Jay, D. P. T. Pearson, A.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E Jeger, G. (Winchester) Peart, T. F.
Daggar, G. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.) Porter, E. (Warrington)
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Jenkins, R. H. Porter, G. (Leeds)
Davies, Harold (Leek) John,W. Prescott, Stanley
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Price, M. Philips
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O
Deer, G. Keenan, W. Proctor, W. T.
Diamond, J. Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Pryde, D. J.
Dobbie, W. Kinley, J Pursey, Comdr. H
Donovan, T. Lang, G. Randall, H. E.
Drawe, C. Lavers, S. Reid, T. (Swindon)
Driberg, T. E. N. Lee, F. (Hulme) Rhodes, H.
Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Levy, B. W. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Edwards, John (Blackburn) Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Rogers, G. H. R.
Edwards, Rt. Hon N. (Caerphilly) Lewis, T. (Southampton) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Erroll, F. J. Lindgren, G. S. Royle, C.
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Lindsay, K. M. (Comb’d Eng. Univ.) Scollan, T.
Evans, John (Ogmore) Lyne, A. W. Shackleton, E. A. A.
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) McAdam, W. Sharp, Granville
Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin) White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.
Silverman, J. (Erdington) Tiffany, S. Wilkes, L.
Simmons, C. J. Timmons, J. Wilkins, W. A.
Smith, Ellis (Stoke) Titterington, M. F Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Tolley, L. Williams, J. L.(Kelvingrove)
Stamford, W. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Stanley, Rt. Hon. O. Turton, R. H. Willis, E.
Steele, T. Ungoed-Thomas, L Wills, Mrs E. A
Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.) Viant, S. P. Woods, G. S.
Stubbs, A. E. Walker, G. H, Yates, V. F.
Sylvester, G. O. Wallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E.) Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Warbey, W. N.
Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet) Webb, M. (Bradford, C) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare) Wells, P. L. (Faversham) Mr. Snow and
Thomas, George (Cardiff) Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E) Mr. George Wallace.
Barlow, Sir J. Granville, E. (Eye) Savory, Prot. D. L.
Brown, W. J. (Rugby) Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Butcher, H. W. Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) Smithers, Sir W
Byers, Frank Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)
Darling, Sir W. Y, Neven-Spence, Sir B. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gage, C. Peto, Brig. C. H. M Sir Alan Herbert and
Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Snow.]