House of Lords Debates (UK) — February 26, 1867
BRITISH NORTH AMERICA BILL — THIRD READING
Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
Moved, “That the Bill be now read 3a.”—(The Earl of Carnarvon.)
LORD CAMPBELL My Lords, the notice I have given will at once convey to your Lordships the intention to raise the only question on the Bill which can divide opinion—namely, whether it ought to stand over the Nova Scotia General Election, as a large body of petitioners desire, or be hurried through the Legislature.
My Lords, the noble Earl the Secretary of State, together with his Colleagues, no doubt deserves praise for having introduced the measure first into this House, as such a course was likely to advance its dignity and credit. But would that dignity and credit be maintained if no debate was tolerated on a subject which involves the fate of interests not to be surpassed, and territories hardly to be calculated; above all, if silence was imposed, and unanimity exacted, on topics which beyond our walls are variously agitated? On Tuesday the whole evening was consumed by speeches from official men in favour of the measure. On Friday the Committee came on at an hour which made discussion quite out of the question, The same thing occurred last night. By interposing now, I take the latest moment to advert to views which should have had a more effective organ; but which, if they were not adduced at all, the injurious conclusion might perhaps be drawn, that great measures ought not, until they have passed the other House, to be submitted to your Lordships.
My Lords, the Nova Scotian claim, endorsed by 30,000 persons, is founded mainly on a circumstance which has not yet been even hinted to your Lordships. And yet it is not doubtful or unknown, since, in the course of the vacation, it was referred to in a published letter by so conclusive an authority as the Under Secretary of the Colonies. A series of events has taken place in Nova Scotia on the franchise. The old 40s. freehold having been deserted as a basis, innovations were adopted which led on to universal suffrage. Universal suffrage called into existence the assembly by which the resolution to empower delegates was carried. It involved so much corruption as to lead to its repeal. The next General Election will be held in May, under the amended system which experience has prompted. The question is not, should a great intercolonial scheme affecting Nova Scotia be referred from the Assembly to the people; but should it be determined by a body whose foundation is condemned when the delay of weeks might ascertain the judgment of a body whose foundation is unquestioned.
My Lords, the authority of Mr. Pitt has been advanced to show that Parliaments may join kingdoms without consulting the electors. On a point so abstract, Mr. Pitt was not unnaturally led to favour the solution by which his policy was vindicated. Locke, in an essay, has maintained the opposite opinion. But, granting the doctrine of Mr. Pitt to have been sound, and that of Locke to be mistaken, Mr. Pitt never ventured to maintain that an Assembly, whose essential principle had been recently discarded, ought to be permitted to cast into new and foreign combinations of existence the society it governs with a contested right and an invalidated efficacy. Neither philosophers or statesmen as yet have countenanced the principle. The power by which the Resolution was adopted is not the power to which Nova Scotia wishes to confide its destiny and government. Are they not entitled, on a matter which affects name, dignity, existence, commerce, and defence, to appeal from a system their intelligence rejects to a system their intelligence has chosen? But, my Lords, beyond this, the facts are not such as to imply, even on the part of the Assembly whose verdict would be so far from unimpeachable, a clear decision for incorporating Nova Scotia in the project now before us. The Bill is founded, I believe, on what is termed the Quebec scheme of 1864. When the Resolution, which alone engages the Nova Scotian Parliament, was in debate, its whole tenor, as our papers show, were against that project. The Leader of the Government was understood distinctly to renounce it. Our lights, indeed, may be imperfect upon this part of the subject, and I will not dwell upon it. But one thing is clear, the preamble of the Resolution comes before us in full and perfect authenticity. The preamble lays down the expediency of confederating British North America. But the decision of Prince Edward’s Island, and Newfoundland, have been fatal to that object. It is one line of conduct for Nova Scotia to become combined with British North America, and another line of conduct for Nova Scotia to become isolated, or, at least, divided from the maritime dependencies. The conference at Quebec, in 1864, grew out of a conference at Charlotte Town, in Prince Edward’s Island, of which the purpose was to combine the latter colony with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The original impressions from which the Resolution gradually sprung, would therefore now appear to militate against it. The whole history of the movement to unite the maritime dependencies, affords a fair presumption that Nova Scotia would not willingly, or without long deliberation and much division, separate her fate from that of the communities to which she had been so long and uniformly gravitating. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at the appeal which has been made, or the petitions which support it. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Normanby), who has lately governed Nova Scotia, in an interesting speech, and in a warrantable manner, has endeavoured to throw doubt on the reality and power of the movement he referred to. He attributes 30,000 signatures to the machinery and eloquence exerted to obtain them rather than to any genuine conviction in the body of the people. Remarks, such as the noble Marquess made, might bear on any agitation at any time, in any country, and they have too large a sweep to be conclusive for their object. On what refers to Nova Scotian opinion, it would be presumptuous in me to controvert the noble Marquess. But the task has been already done by one more qualified to meet him. If the noble Marquess is disposed to reduce the agitation to a shadow, the noble Earl the Secretary of State enhances its importance. The noble Earl insisted that, if the limited delay in question was conceded, the whole scheme would be defeated. My Lords, by whom and what would it be in such a case defeated? It would not be by Canada, or by New Brunswick, to whom no reference is called for, and whoso opinion is pronounced, but by the Nova Scotian movement, numbers and convictions of which the noble Marquess questions the existence. My Lords, I cannot but think the noble Earl the Secretary of State has been too prodigal in his admission. Looking to the evidence before us, I cannot take advantage—at least not to the full extent—of what he liberally offers. The appeal to the legitimate constituency might evidently bar the accession of Nova Scotia to the project; but wishing to avoid exaggeration—even when an adversary on the immediate question sanctions and invites it—I cannot go so far as to maintain it would inevitably do so. I will not lay down, what the noble Earl in substance has advanced, that the General Eleci on which he fears would be quite certain to restrict Confederation to New Brunswick and to Canada. I do submit that we are bound in justice to appeal to it unless some Imperial necessity forbids us so to do. My Lords, if that necessity existed, we all know that it would have its origin in Canada. We know, also, that the noble Viscount (Lord Monck), who has just crossed the wintry Atlantic to enlighten the House upon the Bill before us, would never have omitted to explain it in his speech on Tuesday last. He did not point to such an exigency, either as regards the vulnerable frontier or the party complications of the colony he governs. Men of Parliamentary ability may sometimes lose command over a portion of their argument; but this essential link would never have escaped him. The noble Viscount did, indeed, remark that one central Legislature was better framed than four or five dispersed assemblies for the purpose of defence; but he certainly did not suggest that such a central body might control the operations of an army; and if he did, would scarcely recommend it to our confidence. The only military writers who have gone into the question of how far Confederation would increase the strength of British North America are two officers of artillery named Weber and Bolton, stationed in the garrison of Halifax, as well-informed as they had every reason to be impartial on the subject. The conclusion they support with masterly acuteness is that no further power of defence would accrue to these dependencies from a project which neither adds to population, or revenue, or to strongholds, which does not multiply armed men or bring new military genius into action, or mass together troops which would be otherwise divided. No exigency, therefore, to which this measure would respond is stated to exist as a reason for anticipating the Nova Scotian General Election. My Lords, if no exigency is in the way of an appeal to it, can it be said that no policy imposes and requires it? My Lords, unless I thought it did so I should not have come down to this House to-night, and still less have ventured to address it. The real issue—looking to Imperial security—which facts bring before us, has not been yet suggested to your Lordships. It is not whether British North America ought to be combined, but whether of the two combinations which will come into existence, the Canadian and the maritime, Nova Scotia ought to be attached to the latter or the former. My Lords, we must depart from general ideas, and weigh the very situation which presents itself before us. Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland have declined to join the Confederacy. If they eventually resolve on joining it Nova Scotia is nearly certain to share their resolution, and the question is disposed of. To hurry Nova Scotia in that direction is superfluous. But if Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland persist in keeping out of the Canadian or Continental system which invites them, the issue plainly is, with which of the two divisions ought Nova Scotia, for Imperial advantages and objects, to be blended, And that question can only be determined by referring to another—namely, whether or not, looking to the future, the retention of Nova Scotia may be important to the Empire. My Lords, that question opens large considerations, which I have no desire to approach, because it is enough to show the point to be a doubtful one in order to arrive at the conclusion that Nova Scotia ought not to be violently urged, against intelligible claims, into the Canadian system of the two which British North America exhibits. Arguments may be used to show that Nova Scotia ought to be eventually abandoned, and arguments to show it ought to be eventually retained. On the one hand, it might divert a portion of our naval force from objects more important. It must, like Aden, Malta, Gibraltar, augment the national expenditure. On the other hand, in wars with France and the United States it has been found essential as a basis. Its geographical position renders it defensible. Bermuda, wanting coal, could never possibly replace it. If these considerations are only difficult to balance, if no maturity of judgment on them has been reached, they would suffice to prove that no step is wise which tends to pre-determine the detachment of Nova Scotia from our colonies. But how would this step do so? My Lords, it will not be denied that when Nova Scotia is attached to the system which the Bill creates it will most likely share its destiny and movement. It would scarcely be possible to break the artificial unity we now propose to organize. Is that unity itself without a germ of separation from the Empire? Is not a centrifugal direction, if not a centrifugal velocity, imparted to it? My Lords, I am led to think there is, without at all impugning it as regards Canada and New Brunswick, from a few circumstances which cannot fail to strike us. The new system will have a magnitude not much in harmony with the character of a dependency. Its type—that of federation—will be one under which dependencies have not as yet, I think, in any age been governed. But the language of the noble Earl the Secretary of State is still a graver omen of the future. The noble Earl has spoken of a new Power qualified to exist by the United States in dignified equality. But to let your Lordships see more fully the grandeur of the national conception he has formed, he added that Russia would hardly stand in a higher order of communities. I neither blame the calculation or repudiate the policy; but I submit to this House that, until we are prepared to surrender Nova Scotia, with the harbour, the garrison, and depot it affords, it ought not to be abruptly and harshly plunged into a system over the destiny of which so little practical control appears to be anticipated by its founders. My Lords, I am perhaps exposed to the remark that Nova Scotia ought not to be incorporated in the scheme, if my view is just, whatever be the verdict of the General Election. But on questions of this kind it is allowed that colonial wishes and Imperial advantages should weigh together on our policy. Reproach will scarcely fall on individuals because they ask for less than argument would warrant. It would rather descend on Governments who resist a limited demand when policy would vindicate a more unqualified concession. A more unhappy moment could not be selected for sending the Bill to the other House of Parliament, unless the avowed object is to bar deliberation and make a chorus to repeat the statement of a Minister, or tribunal to register the edicts of his office. Distracted by a prospect which affects its own existence, the House of Commons cannot give its mind to British North America. I well know that the noble Earl the Secretary of State will be deaf to this consideration. He has now embarked on a career of irresistible velocity— ‘Fertur equis auriga neque audit currus habenas.’ But I do venture, in no factious spirit and for no factious end, to appeal a single moment to his Colleagues, and to ask them whether I have at all misstated the events as regards the Nova Scotian franchise. Is the principle unsound that when the basis of a Parliament is seriously changed the amended system should determine questions vital to the people? Are we prepared, on military grounds, to part with Nova Scotia? Has the Bill, as it now stands, no tendency to separate it? Is it, therefore, a judicious course to repel the constitutional, the legitimate, and moderate demand that the verdict of the General Election in Nova Scotia should be listened to? When ought justice to control and generosity to influence if not when interest is dark and policy uncertain? When ought a scrupulous, a liberal and high-minded path to be adopted by a State if not when every other path is full of insecurity? The colonial measures of the Government will be scrutinized with more than ordinary rigour. The course of hurrying this Bill with unexampled haste through both the Houses, in order to defeat a claim which cannot be refuted, and to accelerate a loss which ought, at least, to be delayed, will never gain the approbation of posterity, even if in the distracted and heated times in which we live it should by any chance escape the censure of the public. The noble Lord moved that the Bill be road a third time that day month.
An Amendment moved, to leave out (“now”) and insert (“this Day Month.”)—(Lord Campbell.)
THE EARL OF CARNARVON Considering how fully I trespassed on the patience of the House some days ago in respect to this subject, I do not think it will be necessary for me to go into all the arguments and precedents referred to by the noble Lord opposite, more especially as the larger proportion of the topics I dealt with on that occasion are identical with those brought forward by the noble Lord this evening. It is right for me to say at once that it is utterly impossible for me to agree to the Motion of the noble Lord for two or three reasons, which, I think, the House will at once admit to be conclusive. In the first place, the delegates who are at present in England, to the number of fourteen or sixteen, are gentlemen accredited by their own local authorities—they are the heads of opposite parties, or are the chiefs of important departments; they have been detained long in England awaiting the negotiation and passing of this measure, at great personal inconvenience to themselves, and, I must also say, to the great public inconvenience of their respective localities. I therefore greatly object to Parliament now, without any real and valid reason—and I can hardly admit that any such reason has been urged this evening—detaining these gentlemen for a fortnight or a month longer. And then as to the question of these 30,000 petitioners. We have never had any explanation as to who these petitioners really are. I believe the population of Nova Scotia is upwards of 250,000. Now, I am willing to take it as a fact, on the word of the noble Lord, that 30,000 of these are petitioners against this measure, but I must say that the evidence of that fact is wholly wanting. I understand that a petition has been presented in “another place;” but no petition whatever against this measure has been presented to your Lordships; and this House, therefore, is in no way cognizant of this petition. There are, indeed, various petitions in the blue book, which I laid upon the table of the House some time ago; but I found, as I stated when this Bill was read a second time, that all those petitions, one only excepted, were signed by the chairmen of the meetings, no statement being made either as to the number or the character of the petitioners on whose behalf they were signed. Then the noble Lord has founded an argument on the circumstances of some recent alterations in the franchises of Nova Scotia; but really, if this House is to go into all the intricacies and details of colonial government there can be no end to the matter. Such a course would have the effect of raising questions on every clause of the Bill. The House has simply to ascertain who are the constituted authorities of Nova Scotia, whom we are bound to listen to, and whose opinion we are bound to accept. Now, what have they said? In 1861 the then Parliament of Nova Scotia passed a Resolution in favour of Confederation in general terms. In 1863 that Parliament was dissolved, and a fresh Parliament was elected, and is in existence at the present moment. Well, it was only in June last that that Parliament came to a distinct Resolution in favour of Confederation—a Resolution as distinct as words could express it. That Resolution empowered certain gentlemen to proceed on their behalf to England to negotiate with Her Majesty’s Government the terms of a measure to carry that vote into effect. These accredited envoys were accordingly sent, and the terms have been negotiated and embodied in this Bill. It appears to me that it is not competent for us to look behind that vote of the Nova Scotian Parliament, and to inquire what other parties may be in the colony, and under what circumstances the colonial local authorities and Legislature were elected. If responsible government means anything it means this—that you not only give to a colony free institutions, and enable the inhabitants to elect their own Parliament, but you also undertake, in matters of colonial policy, to deal only with that colony through the legally constituted authorities. Any other view of the case would lead us to endless difficulty. The fact is that in all oases like the present there must be a certain amount of opposition. The measure might be the most perfect that could possibly be framed; but, looking to the state of colonial society, there must be inevitably a certain number of dissentients. The noble Lord opposite says, “Delay this measure for another month in order to give time to the Nova Scotian Parliament to expire by the natural efflux of time, and see what the opinion of a fresh Parliament will be.” Now, if I mistake not, the Nova Scotian Parliament expires in June, and the Canadian Parliament in July. Therefore, if you postpone this measure to June, you must also, in common fairness, again postpone it till after July, in order to give the Canadian Parliament an opportunity to express their opinion also. If this were done I would ask the House at what time it is likely that the measure would return to us, and in what shape it would return? The truth is that this measure has been brought about only at the sacrifice of great personal and local interests; and when I reflect how great that sacrifice has been, I feel quite astonished at the result which has been attained. A great responsibility would rest on Parliament in this country if they deliberately invited opposition to the measure by remitting the subject again to the colony, and stirring up every dissentient person to come forward and agitate the question. I do not say that this measure is a perfect one, for it is impossible that it could be. There are defects in it, no doubt; but, at the same time, the enormous advantages of the measure so completely outweigh its imperfections that I have no hesitation whatever in pressing it upon Parliament, and in urging that it may be speedily passed into a law. For these reasons I do not feel it my duty to accede in any way to the request of the noble Lord opposite. The Bill passed through the second reading in this House without any substantial objection being made to it, and I trust it will also be allowed to pass through the other House of Parliament.
LORD CAMPBELL said, in explanation, that he had never advocated a further reference to the Assemblies of Canada or of New Brunswick. He did not even think it would be essential to refer to that of Nova Scotia, which would soon be called into existence. The language and the indications of the General Election might alone suffice to point out whether Nova Scotia should be incorporated in the scheme, or left in the position of Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland.
Amendment (by Leave of the House) withdrawn: Then the original Motion was agreed to: Bill read 3a accordingly: Amendments made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
House adjourned at Seven o’clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o’clock.