UK, HC, “Government of Newfoundland”, vol 63 (1842), cols 873-880
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Government of Newfoundland“, vol 63 (1842), cols 873-880.
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Lord Stanley rose to ask leave to bring in a bill for the better regulation of the Government of Newfoundland. Although it might not excite much interest, he could assure the House that this was a subject of considerable importance. [Interruption caused by Members leaving.] He knew it was impossible to ask for the patience of the House, and he was quite ready, if the House thought proper, to ask leave to introduce the measure without saying a single word, but if they wished that he should explain the object of the bill, he hoped they would at least allow him to hear what he was saying himself. In 1831 a constitution was granted for the first time to the colony of Newfoundland, on the declaration by the colony of their willingness to take on themselves the expenses of their own administration, and relieve this country from the burden. Out of this circumstance arose the necessity for the appeal he was now making to Parliament, the object of which was to enable the Crown to restrict the extent of the elective franchise then established in the colony. He did not think the House would be of opinion, when he stated the circumstances, that he 876 proposed very largely or improperly to restrict the amount of the franchise. He was very unwilling to enter at much length into the circumstances which had led to the state in which the colony was at present placed. The late governor of the colony had represented to the noble Lord who preceded him in the charge of the Colonial Department, that such was the state of the colony, that it was quite impossible that he could undertake to summon an assembly under the constitution as it now stood, and the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies concurring in this opinion, authorized the suspension of the sittings of the Assembly until time should have been taken to consider the state of the colony. A committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate the whole circumstances on the motion of the hon. Member for Droitwich (Mr. Pakington); but their inquiries were cut short by the dissolution of Parliament, and all that they were able to effect was a partial examination of some questions affecting the religious differences of the island. He was happy to learn that the animosities springing out of this source had to a considerable extent subsided, and with the religious part of the question he did not propose in any way to deal. Although a nominal qualification for both the electors and the elected was ordained under the new constitution, it was in point of fact no qualification at all. The state of society was in many respects peculiar. Formerly the inhabitants consisted chiefly of fishermen, with a few persons who were attracted to the island by commerce, but in the course of time another interest had grown up, consisting of agriculturists and other persons resident in the colony. Between the different classes considerable jealousy prevailed, which divided the people into two parties. The inhabitants were distributed over a large extent of sea-coast with but small means of communication with the interior. The bulk of the population was extremely poor, and as a natural consequence extremely ignorant, with but few persons possessed of property. The qualification of a voter hitherto had been the possession of a house for twelve months, which might be a mere log-hut of a few boards, such as was called in the North American provinces a shanty. The qualification for representatives was the having occupied a house for seven years. The 877 result had been, that the House of Assembly had consisted generally of very uneducated persons, one of the fifteen of: which it was composed having been unable to write his own name, and some of the others being menial servants, who had to ask their masters’ leave to enable them to sit in the House. He thought the House would agree with him that in such a state of things some check was called for, and that the restriction he proposed on the franchise was not unreasonable. The qualification which he should now propose for the electors, in conformity with the opinions of both the present governor and his predecessor, and with the consent of most parties in the island, was in the country districts the possession of a 40s. freehold, the person being resident on the spot, paying no rent, but being in undisputed possession, even if unauthorized. In the towns he proposed the occupation of a 5l. house, which rent being exceedingly low—indeed, in the country districts no such thing existed—would, in fact, include the great bulk of the householders. With respect to the qualifications of candidates, he should propose the possession of 100l. a year, or property to the amount of 500l. Enough of persons properly qualified at this standard would be found in the colony. One other restriction he proposed to introduce, in compliance with the constitutional practice in this country, and to which he did not believe any objection would be made on either side of the House, and that was, the origination of money votes by the Crown. The effect of the present jealousy between the commercial and agricultural interests was, that each grudged any expenditure of the public money in behalf of the other, and in consequence objections were made to the money votes, and no supply was granted for the public business. He thought it would be a proper control for this state of things to enact that money votes should originate with the Crown, and not with the House of Assembly. On all these points there was no difference of opinion in the colony itself. There was another provision, not made indeed with the general consent of the colony itself but to which he attached considerable importance, as tending to smooth the course of public business. The Council, as things now stood, checked the House of Assembly, and the two bodies acted with mutual jealousy. He 878 proposed to incorporate both into one chamber, combining the principle of election with that of nomination by the Crown. At present there were two separate chambers, one nominated by the Crown, the other by the people. He proposed to convert them into one council, consisting of twenty-five members, of whom ten, or two-fifths should be nominated by the Crown, and fifteen or three-fifths should be elected by the people. This plan he thought would tend to produce more harmonious legislation, and prevent that suspension of public business which used formerly to occur when questions of precedence and dignity occupied the time which should be devoted to public business. These were the principal changes which he proposed, and he was anxious to hasten the measure on, and not leave the colony, as it was now, without any representative body.
Mr. O’Connell, viewing the whole scheme of legislation proposed by the noble Lord, would implore him rather to introduce a bill to annihilate all representation in the colony, and take the Government of the colony altogether into his own hands, than mock them with such a semblance of a representative body. The people of Newfoundland had been extremely ill-used, not only by the Government of which the noble Lord had formed a part, but also by the preceding Government. The committee appointed by the noble Lord, the Member for London, to consider the state of Newfoundland, had made its report on ex parte statements, as none of the residents of the colony had an opportunity of being examined before it. The whole power of the colony was placed in the hands of a few London houses, and the Legislature was in reality vested in them. Of this he was convinced, though he imputed to the noble Lord no motive or. intention other than what the noble Lord had declared. He had heard from persons resident in Newfoundland, that before the constitution was granted, the colony was a burden to the mother country; but, since then, the case was altered, and public works of an extensive nature were undertaken. Amongst others, a thousand miles of road had been laid down, and the country was prospering exceedingly. The proposed alteration of the qualification would be nothing less than a transfer from the many to the few. The greater number of the poor voters at present were Roman 879 Catholics, who would be deprived of their votes, and the feuds which were complained of would be renewed under another name. If ten of the persons in the House of Assembly were named by the Government, it would require but three adherents of the Government to be amongst the elected body to give it complete sway over the Assembly. When he saw the bill of the noble Lord, he should give it his best attention, though he was, at the same time. convinced, that he should be compelled to give it every opposition.
Mr. C. Buller greatly regretted the introduction of this bill, because he thought, with the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, that it was not calculated to restore harmony in the colony, for whose better government it was intended, but that its effect would rather be to perpetuate the disagreements which already existed there. He approved, however, of those portions of the scheme which proposed to give to the Crown the origination of money grants, and by which it was suggested, that the House of Assembly and the Council might be incorporated; but he thought, that with respect to the latter, it was not merely the general principle, but the relative proportions of the two bodies, with reference to the influence of the Crown, which ought to be looked to. And he could not help pointing out what would be the effect of the measure proposed. The House of Assembly, according to its new constitution, would consist of twenty-five members, ten being the nominees of the Crown, and fifteen being the representatives of the elective body. But, supposing three only of the latter number to be returned upon the influence of the Crown, the effect would be, that there would be an invariable majority over the representatives of the people. He could not help thinking, that there must be some exaggeration in the statement of the noble Lord, that any members of the House of Assembly were menial servants, and compelled to ask the permission of their masters before they could take their seats, although he certainly did admit, that the accomplishments of reading and writing were not universal in the colony. He was of opinion, that the alteration of the elective franchise would have a bad effect, because it would be in truth changing the governing body of the country; but he admitted the great difficulties of the case, and that a vast 880 portion of the measure was exceedingly sound and proper.
Lord Stanley, in reply, said, that he had proposed no restrictions whatever, but had only given to Newfoundland the legislature which had been held in abeyance by his noble predecessor in the Colonial-office, in consequence of the state of the island.
Leave given.—Bill brought in and read a first time.
Lord Stanley, in moving for leave to bring in a bill to make further provision for the government of New South Wales, said, that the constitutional act in that colony had been renewed by successive acts since 1836, and as it would expire in the present year, he proposed to introduce the present bill, founded in the material parts, on the measure proposed by the noble Lord, the Member for London, last Session. He had considered the provisions of that bill, and had made some alterations, which were suggested by persons representing different opinions in the colony. The bill would considerably extend the popular rights in New South Wales, but not more so than he thought the population, wealth, and importance of the colony were fairly entitled to; and it would also constitute, for the conduct of local affairs, municipal districts and bodies which would be required by the Legislature about to be given under the sanction of Parliament.
Leave given.—Bill brought in and read a first time.