House of Commons Debates (UK) — March 4, 1867
BRITISH NORTH AMERICA BILL — COMMITTEE
Order for Committee rend.
Motion made, and Question proposed, “That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.”
MR. OSBORNE I cannot help thinking, Sir, that the time has arrived when, after having been kept for three weeks in the dark as to the policy or intentions of the Government, some further explanation is due to the House. [“Order!”] I am speaking, Sir, on the Motion that you leave the Chair.
MR. SPEAKER The House is now proceeding on the Motion for going into Committee on the British North America Bill.
MR. OSBORNE I was about to move, Sir, on the Motion that you leave the Chair, that the House do now adjourn. I cannot think that I am taking any liberty with the House in moving the adjournment. This is no common period in the history of Parliament. Sir, what has happened? For three weeks this House has been kept in the dark as to the proceedings of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down, not on the first night of the Session, but on the Monday following, and, like Cagliostro expounding the secret of the philosopher’s stone, he left us as much in the dark as we were before. And what has now happened? We are told that the Government is about to recur to its original policy. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, or, at any rate, some of his Colleagues that are left, or possibly those that have gone, what the original policy of the Government was? This House has a right to demand what it was. Whether it was to land us in an £8 rating or in household suffrage no man in this House or the country knows. It is but decent to this House—it is, at any rate, what the country demands, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—whether he is the late or the present Secretary for War I am not able to say—whom we all admire and respect for his consistency and also for his noble abnegation of self, that he, or at least the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranbourne), should tell us what that original policy was, or why they have left Her Majesty’s Government? I will not press the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for War on this occasion, because he is still sitting on the Treasury Bench, and possibly some other policy may be initiated which may keep him there; but I ask the noble Lord, who I am sure will not scruple to tell us, the reason why he has left the Cabinet. I ask the question out of no vulgar curiosity, but because it is an explanation to which not only this House, but the constituencies which sent us here are entitled. I am surprised that such a duty should have devolved on so humble a Member as myself; but I am sure that I only reflect the common sense of the country in asking why the noble Lord has left the Government, and what is the original policy to which the Government have recurred after three weeks’ consideration. I beg, Sir, to move the adjournment of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed, “That this House do now adjourn.”—(Mr. Osborne.)
COLONEL SYKES said, that some nights ago, in Committee of the House, a sum of £6,000 was voted for excess of expenditure, and he wanted to ask the Secretary of the Treasury what this was for? [“Order!”]
VISCOUNT CRANBOURNE I regret to say, Sir, that my reply to the hon. Gentleman must necessarily be brief, He must be aware that it is not in the power of those who have had the honour of forming part of Her Majesty’s Government to speak as to what has taken place without the permission of Her Majesty. That permission I have not received, and I therefore regret to say that I cannot satisfy the hon. Gentleman.
MR. OSBORNE I give notice that I shall renew the Question at the first opportunity.
MR. GLADSTONE I think, Sir, the answer which has just been given by the noble Lord is one which is perfectly sufficient and conclusive. At the same time, I am bound to say that I do not think any blame attaches to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) for referring to the terms in which another disclosure or revelation has to-night been made to the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not confine himself in the brief statement that he made within necessary bounds. He did not merely state that alterations had occurred which would call for time in order that Her Majesty’s Government might well consider their course; but, as has been observed by my hon. Friend, he also told the House that the Government had “recurred” to their original policy. Now, Sir, that is an explanation which imports more difficulty than it removes, and I own I am sorry that such a declaration was made; because the mind of every man who heard the right hon. Gentleman must have immediately conceived—indeed, it was involved in the very words—that the original policy which has now been revived was, at the time when it formerly existed, the policy of the entire Cabinet, including, therefore, of necessity, the three distinguished persons of whose services the Government have now been deprived. At this critical moment, therefore, when I am sure the House would gladly have consented, with that delicacy and justness of feeling for which it is so remarkable, to abstain from all inquisition, the expressions of the right hon. Gentleman most unfortunately have had the effect of casting upon his Colleagues who have retired the responsibility of some change of policy, which has been ostensibly the cause of the present embarrassment. I am sure the noble Lord and my right hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I point out that which appears to me to lie upon the very surface of the case, and that they will not for a moment presume that I am giving an opinion on the matter. I think, however, that there are a few words which it is necessary at this juncture to say on the part of the House. Four weeks have now elapsed since the House met, and those four weeks have not been, as they were last year, weeks of silence on the part of the Government, justified, or, at any rate, believed by us to be justified, for stated and substantive causes; but they have been weeks in which we have seen more than once an attempt to make a fitful and uncertain advance, to be followed by a speedy and unequivocal retreat. When Parliament met, a paragraph in the Speech from the Throne announced the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to bring before us the question of the representation of the people, and great satisfaction was felt by us all when the right hon. Gentleman made the engagement, which he afterwards fulfilled, that on a very early day he would open to the House the views of Her Majesty’s Government. When, however, those views were opened—I will not say anything either in praise or in blame of them—it certainly appeared to the House, and L think to the country, that instead of advancing with the question, we stood at a point somewhat behind that which we had occupied on the first night of the Session. There were, consequently, general demands for a further elucidation of the matter, and on Monday last the right hon. Gentleman brought down a plan and laid it before the House. We then for a second time—the first being the opening night of the Session—thought that progress was to be made. No debate took place upon that plan. A few remarks were made by myself—I am not sure whether any were made by any other Member—and those remarks certainly did not convey any intention to oppose that plan upon the second reading of the Bill that was to be introduced. No sooner, however, had that plan appeared than it also seemed to be smitten with paralysis, and there went forth rumours in London and throughout the country that that plan was itself to be withdrawn. Without Parliamentary opposition, almost without Parliamentary comment, that scheme has ceased to exist. At this moment we find ourselves at the point at which we originally stood. I have seen in a distant country an ancient Greek dance, in which the women, from moment to moment, commence by advancing three steps, and immediately afterwards continue the dance by retreating two steps. But our case is not quite so favourable, for, in the political dance of the present Session, if the advance has been three steps, the retreat has been of three stops also. Now, I advert to this matter not as a question between party and party, but because there are others besides ourselves who are interested in it; and it is essential, in my opinion, to the well working of the Constitution that the country should not lose, and that we should do nothing to diminish, the confidence which the country places in the House of Commons as a body capable and competent to deal with public emergencies when they arise, Therefore, I hope that at the point at which we have arrived we shall henceforward have one definite, consistent movement in the same direction. I am bound to say—and I do not fix the charge on the Government alone, I speak of the House of Commons without distinction of party—that unless we can convey to the mind of the country more distinct and definite convictions of our capacity to treat this great occasion with the force and decision it demands, not the Government alone, not those who sit behind them, but all classes of this great assembly of the Parliament of England will stand materially discredited in public opinion. I have said so much on the subject of procedure. With regard to the substance of the Bill, I do not intend to go into any further critisism, which I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite circumstances alone have extorted from me, and my deep conviction as to the somewhat critical position of the House itself before the country. I do not intend by that criticism to qualify anything that I may have previously presumed to say, on behalf of myself and others, with respect to the reception which we shall give to a definite proposal from the Government. I may venture to express, however, a hope that that proposal when it appears will be of a simple, straightforward, and intelligible character. I will not ask that it shall not contain what is now. It must contain what is new. But I will ask and I will express a hope that it will not contain what is new-fangled. The people of this country are eminently attached to simplicity of procedure, and I think there never was a moment when they were in mood less favourable for dealing with plans and schemes which might seem to them to deviate from the character of simplicity. I trust, above all, that the Bill of the Government may not be a measure containing two sets of provisions, one of them framed to have the semblance of giving, and the other constructed to have the reality and effect of taking away. I may perhaps be uncharitable in allowing my mind to be influenced, even in the slightest degree, by those rumours with which the air is thick and full; but it is not possible wholly to resist their effect. And I say, in conclusion, that if the Government, avoiding those dangers—serious, I think, for all public men, and more serious when the question has reached that state of complication and entanglement at which this question has unhappily arrived—if the Government, escaping those dangers, shall submit a plan, good, simple, ample, straightforward, constitutional, and intelligible in its character, I venture to promise that it will be received on this side of the House in no grudging spirit—with no recollections of the past, with no revival of those mutual suspicions and complaints which I grant may be bandied from either side of the House to the other, but with an earnest desire to bring the endeavours of the Administration to a speedy and prosperous issue. I wish to make an appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife (Mr. Aytoun), with respect to the Bill for the Confederation of the North American Provinces, which is now proposed to be committed. My hon. Friend had given notice of his intention to raise a debate upon the 145th section, which relates to the construction of a railway which will unite the Provinces of British North America. I cannot help thinking, and I am sure I express the feelings of the Under Secretary for the Colonies, that it will be much better to wait for the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the guarantee, than to raise the discussion of a question so important upon this clause in the Bill. Having read the clause with cave, and having consulted upon it with others, I venture to give the most confident opinion that it has no bearing upon the obligations of Parliament, and that the discretion of Parliament must remain entire, subject only to the announcement of the Government with respect to the proposed guarantee. Upon an early day there will be ample opportunity given for full discussion on the question; and therefore it will be better to allow the Bill to go through Committee, it being a matter which appertains—I will not say to the security, but to the dignity of the Empire, and which should proceed from stage to stage without unnecessary delay.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Bill considered in Committee.
(In the Committee.)
Clauses 1 to 40, inclusive, agreed to.
Clause 41 (Continuance of existing Election Laws.)
MR. E. W. T. HAMILTON said, he wished to ask whether it was intended to give the franchise to females, or to confine it to males? The clause as it stood said that “every British subject” of the prescribed age should have a vote.
MR. ADDERLEY said, he presumed it was not intended that females should vote.
The word “male” inserted before “British subject.”
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 42 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.
Clause 53 (Increase of number of House of Commons.)
MR. E. W. T. HAMILTON said, that in the clause a power was reserved of increasing the number of Members, and he thought it might be desirable to give the power of also diminishing it. The total number of Members who would be required for the general and provincial Legislatures would be 550, which might be found too many to be conveniently furnished from a population of 4,000,000. 550 Members would be equivalent to a population of 15,000,000. He was aware that the number had been settled by the delegates of the Canadian Provinces; but he wished them to have the power of diminishing the number if it should be found too large.
MR. ADDERLEY said, that the population of the Provinces was rapidly increasing. The Bill had been drawn for a representation based on the existing electoral districts in the several Provinces, and such an alteration as the hon. Member suggested would involve a subversion of the entire arrangements of the measure.
MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE said, the greatest possible importance was attached in Canada to the maintenance of the electoral districts as they stood, inasmuch as any re-arrangement of them by a dominant majority might tend to interfere materially with the interests of the minority.
MR. KINNAIRD said, that the proposed Amendment would destroy the symmetry of the measure.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 54 and 55 agreed to.
Clause 56 (Disallowance by Order in Council of Act assented to by Governor General.)
MR. E. W. T. HAMILTON said, he thought some greater limit should be put to the time during which Her Majesty had power to disallow any Acts that might be passed. Two years was too long a period for Her Majesty or Her Majesty’s Government to consider whether they would allow or disallow a Bill. He also suggested that a provision should be inserted by which a Bill reserved for Her Majesty’s approval should become law unless Her Majesty disallowed it within a certain specified time.
MR. ADDERLEY said, the clause before the Committee only provided for the disallowance of a Bill within two years. He would not discuss whether the time were too long or not; but he did not think that was the best opportunity to alter a rule with regard to the disallowance of Bills, which applied to all the colonies. He was satisfied, too, the hon. Member could entertain but little apprehension that Her Majesty would exercise her power in that respect in a manner injurious to the Confederation.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 57 agreed to.
Clause 58 (Lieutenant Governors of Provinces.)
MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE said, that in his opinion, the appointment should be made by the Crown and not by the Governor General. The Lieutenant Governor should come from England, and should be independent of and not hold office merely during the pleasure of the Governor General. With regard to the two Lieutenant Governors, who would be superseded by this Bill at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, he wished to ask if any compensation would have to be made to them?
MR. CARDWELL said, that upon the score of pensions there was no difficulty in the case. The late Lieutenant Governors of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had been provided for, the one having been made Governor of Hong Kong, and the other of Trinidad, The present Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia had been informed that he received his appointment only until the Bill before the House was passed, and he had accepted the office on that understanding. In New Brunswick the duties of Lieutenant Governor were being discharged by the officer in command of the forces; so that no claim for compensation would in either instance arise. On the general question that the Lieutenant Governor ought to be nominated by the Crown, he must say that he thought to adopt that course would be to act contrary to the whole spirit of the Act, which was to render the North American Provinces as far as possible one community, the Governor General representing the Crown, and being in communication with, and responsible to, the Colonial Office.
MR. GRENFELL said, great inconvenience might result in time of war if the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia were not placed in direct communication with the Colonial Office.
MR. ADDERLEY said, he could very easily communicate with that office through the Governor General. He also considered that it was better the appointments of Lieutenant Governors should be made by the Governor General, entirely on his own responsibility, than that they should be vested in the Crown. Supposing the Crown retained the appointment, reference would have to be made to the Governor General to ascertain the qualifications of persons suitable for office. It was one of the objects of the Bill to strengthen the hands of the Governor General as much as possible.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 59 to 68, inclusive, agreed to.
Clause 69 (Legislature for Ontario.)
MR. ROEBUCK said, that according to the Bill there was to be one Legislature for Upper Canada or Ontario, consisting of the Lieutenant Governor and one House, while the Legislature for Lower Canada or Quebec was to consist of the Lieutenant Governor and two Houses. He wished to know the reason of this difference.
MR. ADDERLEY said, that the Representatives of Upper Canada preferred a single Chamber, and those who represented Quebec desired to retain their present two Chambers. The fact was that Lower Canada was a little more Conservative than Upper Canada, and preferred its existing local Legislature; which Upper Canada was ready at once to reduce to a municipality.
MR. ROEBUCK said, he rather agreed with Upper Canada in this matter, because he fancied he saw some element of difficulty, with respect to the nominated Upper Chamber, which certainly could not arise where a Province only had one Legislative assembly. There was no aristocracy in Lower Canada, out of which a suitable Upper Chamber could be formed. Many years ago, representing the interests of Lower Canada, he had endeavoured to do away with the nominative Legislative Council. They now avoided that evil in Upper Canada, but they were perpetuating the evil in Lower Canada.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 70 to 90, inclusive, agreed to.
Clause 91 (Legislative Authority of Parliament of Canada.)
MR. E. W. T. HAMILTON said, he wished to know how a conflict of jurisdiction between the Parliament of Canada and the Provincial Legislatures was to be settled?
MR. ADDERLEY said, he did not think that any serious conflict of the kind anticipated by the hon. Member could take place so long as a supreme power was vested in the Governor General to veto Acts.
MR. ROEBUCK said, that the framers of the American Constitution foresaw this difficulty, and provided a Supreme Court, whose province it was to decide whether even the laws passed by Congress were illegal. This Bill, however, seemed a lopsided one, and contained no provision to prevent the passing hereafter of laws which might be unconstitutional. In other words, the Canadian Parliament would be supreme. Supposing the Governor General and the Parliament of Canada were to pass a law that the Municipal Constitution of Nova Scotia was in contravention of this very Act, who was to decide whether they were right or wrong?
MR. CARDWELL said, he was afraid that the defect pointed out by the hon. and learned Member was not one which, in the present state of feeling in the North American Provinces, it was possible to remedy. As matters now stood if the Legislature of Canada acted ultra vires, the question would first be raised in the Colonial Law Courts, and would ultimately be settled by the Privy Council at home. No doubt it was a defect, but the point had undergone consideration by the delegates, who thought it would be better to leave things in this state.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 92 to 144, inclusive, agreed to.
Clause 145 (Duty of Government of Canada to make Railway.)
MR. AYTOUN said, that he had placed on the paper an Amendment to the effect that this clause should be omitted; but after the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, whom he understood to say that the clause could in no respect fetter their freedom of action when the Bill guaranteeing the loan came on for discussion, he would not press his Amendment. He wished, however, to ask the Under Secretary for the Colonies to state, whether in the negotiations anything had occurred to render it possible for the colonies to consider that this clause, if passed, would bind the House in the discussion which would afterwards take place on the Bill for granting a guarantee.
MR. ADDERLEY said, that there was no doubt that the present Government had come to an understanding with the Canadian delegates that they would propose a guarantee to Parliament, but there was nothing whatever in the clause under consideration that would bind the House to that proposal when made. The history of the clause was simply this—the completion of the Intercolonial Railway was regarded by the various Provinces who were parties to the Bill as a sine quâ non, and they wished to have the clause inserted in this measure with the view to record the agreement among themselves, thus giving it a sanction. What would be proposed to Parliament was to guarantee the interest at 4 per cent upon a loan of £3,000,000. The Confederation would be completed by the Bill. There was nothing in the Bill that could pledge Parliament, which would be left entirely unfettered, to discuss the guarantee when proposed.
MR. ROEBUCK said, that in 1859 he went with the delegates, who were then here from America, to Lord Derby upon the subject of this Intercolonial Railway. He stated to Lord Derby at the time that it was an Imperial, and not merely a colonial question, because it might happen that we might have a quarrel with the United States in the month of December; and, if so, Canada would be a sealed land to us because the St. Lawrence would be frozen. It would, therefore, be of great importance to us to have means of transporting troops to Canada. The very case which he contemplated occurred in the affair of the Trent. The noble Earl saw the force of that statement, and the deputation left him with the impression that the railway would be made. Soon afterwards there was a change of Government, and the light hon. Gentlemen who entered office—thinking it their duty to undo everything that Lord Derby had done, good, bad, or indifferent—stopped the guarantee. As; time went on, however, they—much to their credit, and very unlike the rest of mankind—learned by experience; they took the matter up, and the right hon. Gentleman who was then Secretary for the Colonies consented to do the very thing that his leaders had, some two or three years before, prevented.
MR. LOWE said, there was some difficulty about this matter. The clause was peculiarly worded. We proposed to enact that these States should make arrangements for the construction of the railway in question within six months after the union. But we had no power to do anything of the sort. We could not issue a mandamus to compel them, and yet we pledged ourselves as strongly as words could do to make this railway. We commanded that which we had no right to command, His right hon. Friend had declared that this railway was considered by the colonists a sine quâ non. And; then the House was asked to go another step. They were informed that a Bill was to be laid before them for the purpose of giving a guarantee, and that this clause would not in any way hamper their discussion when the Bill on the guarantee came before them. If the Government gave such an assurance, he supposed they must take it. But for that assurance he should have thought the clause would commit Parliament to the loan. But if it should be the pleasure of the House to refuse this guarantee, as he hoped it would, he trusted they would not have the gentlemen who represented the North American Colonies turning round by-and-by and saying that they had enacted this clause about a guarantee and then refused to carry it out.
MR. E. W. T. HAMILTON said if they were to pass this clause in its present shape they would have no option but to assent to the guarantee when the Bill on the subject was presented to them. He understood that if the Committee passed this clause and made the House a party to the agreement, which was a sine quâ non with the Maritime Provinces, they would be obliged to give a guarantee for the loan which was now stated to be £3,000,000, but which he had always heard would amount to £4,000,000. If the question rested on the grounds stated by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, he would not give his assent. It was not because it was a matter of Imperial concern, and that otherwise we might not be able to get our troops into Canada, that he was willing to entertain the question of a guarantee. He would do so simply on the ground that it might be for the interest and well-being of the Provinces.
MR. ROEBUCK said, he wished hon. Members to read the clause and see what it really meant. It said that inasmuch as the Provinces had determined that such a railway was essential to the connection between them, be it enacted that it shall be the duty of the Government and Parliament of Canada to make it. That was all that was in the clause, and when hon. Gentlemen talked of its being a guarantee they should try and see what the words meant. If the clause provided anything else let somebody get up and say what.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 146, 147 (Admission of other Colonies) agreed to.
New Clauses added.
Clause A. Salaries of Lieutenant Governors shall be fixed and provided by the Parliament of Canada.
Clause B. Salaries, &c, of Judges, &c, to be fixed and provided by the Parliament of Canada.
Also a new Section VIII. Revenues; Debts; Assets; Taxation.
Clauses C. to A. A. added.
Also a Third Schedule List of Provincial Public Works—Property to be the Property of Canada.
Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.