UK, HL, “Status of Newfoundland”, vol 160 (1949), cols 627-653
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Status of Newfoundland“, vol 160 (1949), cols 627-653.
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LORD SEMPILL rose to ask His Majesty’s Government what is their policy with regard to the present constitutional status of the Dominion of Newfoundland; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, you will all agree that to-day democracy is being attacked violently from without and, by the Trojan horse methods, from within. These attacks become heavier and, since appetite grows with eating, their success spurs the totalitarian aggressors to even greater efforts to destroy democratic institutions. Democracy is on trial to-day as never before. Surely it is the duty of all of us who are privileged to play some part in this the Mother of Parliaments to insist in the strictest manner possible on the carrying out in full degree of established constitutional practice, and to allow no deviation from it. We should not tamper with the art and practice of democracy and then excuse such interference at a later date by saying that the results were, after all, worth while. But, my Lords, are we not doing something of that kind in relation to Newfoundland to-day? Newfoundland—her position to-day and her future to-morrow—is the subject of pronouncement and discussion in the Parliaments of Canada and Great Britain. Were she free, as I hold she should be, her Parliament would be discussing and arranging her future in accordance with normal democratic procedure.
Your Lordships, of course, will all be familiar with the history of Newfoundland’s position in the Empire and Commonwealth, but perhaps you will allow me a few minutes to make a short summary as a prelude to my submission. In 1578, Humphrey Gilbert was granted 628 Letters Patent by Queen Elizabeth, permitting the planting of an English colony overseas. I read an extract— whose settlers and their heirs for ever should enjoy all the privileges of free citizenship of England. By 1855, Newfoundland had obtained self-government, which she enjoyed till 1876, when she achieved full responsible government, which she enjoyed up till 1934. In January of that year, new Letters Patent were issued to assist her to meet the economic difficulties of those years. They were to: provide for the administration of the said Island until such time as it may become self-supporting again. When this time arrived, as was envisaged by the Royal Commission, responsible government was to be restored. The Commission of Government was appointed, as I see it, to handle the day-to-day affairs of the Island during an extremely difficult period, but not to make away with her Sovereignty, or indeed to dispose of her future at all.
By 1941, as your Lordships are aware, Newfoundland had become self-supporting, and in 1945 a National Convention was set up. I read an extract from the document which set that up: To consider and discuss among themselves as elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934 and … to examine the position of the country and to make recommendation as to the possible forms of future government to put before the people at a national referendum. As your Lordships may remember, this National Convention decided unanimously that only two issues should be put before the electors—namely, continuation of the present Commission of Government, or the restoration of responsible government. A motion was before the Assembly to put confederation with Canada on the referendum ballot, but this was overwhelmingly defeated, the voting being actually twenty-nine votes to sixteen votes. This decision of the elected representatives of Newfoundland was cast aside by the unilateral action of the Commission of Government, acting, no doubt, on instructions from Whitehall, which decided that the issue of Confederation with Canada should be placed on the ballot paper, despite the fact that the letters patent of 1934 made no reference at all to such a possibility, 629 nor, so far as I am aware, did the Parliamentary Delegation, of which my noble friend, Lord Ammon, who is to reply, was Chairman. Indeed, when I was last in Newfoundland, I read an interesting booklet written by my noble friend, Lord Ammon, in which he made clear reference to the fact that the idea of Confederation with Canada was very unpopular with Newfoundlanders.
As your Lordships are aware, the British North America Act expressly states that Confederation can be brought about only by Addresses from the respective Legislatures of Newfoundland and Canada. I submit that no such Address can emanate from Newfoundland until her Government has been re-established. The Statute of Westminster of 1931, which specifically recognises Newfoundland as a Dominion, lays down that: No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom shall extend to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion unless the Dominion shall have so requested and consented to the proposed enactment.
It was under such conditions therefore, very broadly outlined to your Lordships, that the referendum of June, 1948, was held, resulting in 22,000 people voting for Commission of Government, 63,000 for Confederation with Canada, and 69,000 for representative government. Then, in July, on an amended basis, a second referendum was held, resulting in 78,000 people voting for Confederation with Canada, and 71,000 for the restoration of responsible government—a majority of about 7,000. Such a figure cannot be construed as an overwhelming expression of opinion by the people of Newfoundland on an issue of such vital importance, and one in regard to which Newfoundlanders, particularly those in the outports—and those of your Lordships who have been there know how difficult it is to get round Newfoundland—had had no adequate opportunity of being fully informed by all the means available to-day for informing the people of a country, before expressing their views. The opinion is widely held in Newfoundland that the authorities did not allow a fair use of the broadcasting facilities.
My Lords, I have visited Newfoundland several times, and have worked there for a good period in years gone by acting as aeronautical adviser unpaid to that very distinguished naval officer, the then Governor, the late Admiral Sir David 630 Murray Anderson, occupying myself with the survey of the airports that were then projected. I came in contact with a large number of people all over Newfoundland. The two main airports which were decided upon are now operating and are known to all who travel by air. They are Gander and Goose. I had an opportunity of coming in contact with all sections of a very fine people—descendants from those of old English or Celtic stock. But it is sad to-day to have it borne in on one that there is a feeling widely held there that they are being sold by His Majesty’s Government to Canada. Opinion is also widely held by Newfoundlanders that His Excellency the Governor and the Commission of Government have not only done all in their power, but have even exceeded their constitutional powers, in weighting the scales against them and in favour of pushing them into Confederation with Canada. My noble friend, Lord Saltoun, was to have been here to-day to take part in this debate, but he has sent a telegram to say that he is in bed with influenza and apologising for his absence. He also says: I heard in Newfoundland local opinion appreciative of the work of the Commission, but very critical of action of Commissioners in taking part in propaganda in favour of union to influence referendum in relation to Canada.
Just what are the advantages that will fall to Newfoundlanders, and how will their country’s economic interest be secured under such an arrangement as that discussed with Canada? We hear very bold statements trade, but these, so far as I am aware, are not backed up by reasoned argument. For example, would Newfoundlanders have to shoulder a per capita debt some seven times greater than the debt they shoulder today, and then be handed out that rather hard deal that the maritimes generally receive and know so well? Perhaps the best answer to these economic questions would be that which Mr. Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister of Canada, gave, when he said it was “No better than an informed guess.” It is very significant that the experienced business delegate who was sent by the Commission of Government to Ottawa to negotiate the arrangements now under discussion, on seeing the terms that were being worked out, refused to be a party to signing the document and returned to St. John’s.
My noble friend, Lord Ammon, who is to reply for His Majesty’s Government, was, as I have already said, Chairman of an important Parliamentary Delegation in 1943. Amongst those who went with him was Sir Alan Herbert, who has certainly made himself the champion of Newfoundland in another place, and has done great work for her. But I feel sure that my noble friend and others who have been over there must very frequently receive letters from friends, not only in St. John’s but in the outports, expressing their great concern at the present state of affairs. With your Lordships’ permission, I will quote from a letter which is but three weeks old from a Newfoundlander who is now at Oxford, and who out of term goes home again. He writes: People in England have no inkling of the bitterness that has been generated against England for her handling of the situation in Newfoundland. During a visit home last summer I met people who, for example, were determined never again to stand when ‘God Save the King’ was being played. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
My Lords, I do suggest that if we had followed the regular constitutional practice established through centuries and forged in the democratic tire of experience, and had honoured our obligations, the name of England would stand in Newfoundland to-day as high as it did when Humphrey Gilbert, on August 4, 1583, raised the flag. As we read in The Elizabethan Spirit, written by that constructive Empire-conscious statesman, Leo Amery: On the shores of the harbour of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the presence of many English and foreign fishermen, Humphrey Gilbert solemnly hoisted the English flag and, in the Queen’s name, took possession of the harbour and all territories for two hundred leagues every way. Thus was laid the foundation stone of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
I thank your Lordships sincerely for bearing with me, and I hope that those who follow will join with me with vigour in pressing His Majesty’s Government to think again and to follow the course that both conscience and established democratic practice dictate, by restoring responsible government to the people of Newfoundland. The elected National Convention, to which I have already referred and which was set up in 1945, is surely already a step in the direction 632 of establishing, or I should say re-establishing, Parliament in St. John’s.
Before giving way to those of your Lordships who will speak, I would like to ask my noble friend who is to reply on behalf of His Majesty’s Government four questions, which I feel sure he will be able to answer. First, is it considered that the referenda figures give full expression to the dictum of the late Prime Minister of Canada—that The people of Newfoundland indicate clearly and beyond all possibility of misunderstanding their will that Newfoundland should become a part of Canada”? Secondly, do His Majesty’s Government deny that a promise was made to Newfoundland for the restoration of responsible government when she was again self-supporting? Thirdly, do His Majesty’s Government agree that Newfoundland has been self-supporting since 1941, and has made a substantial interest-free loan to Great Britain? Fourthly, do His Majesty’s Government regard the Commission of Government as a democratic body representative of public opinion, and, if not, under what authority do His Majesty’s Government state that the Commission of Government have the right to solicit votes for confederation with Canada at the time of the referendum, and contrary to the majority decision of the democratically elected National Convention set up in 1945? My Lords, I ask leave to move for Papers.
LORD RENNELL My Lords, this Motion is a difficult one to discuss. That is not to say that it should not be discussed, but it is difficult to discuss it without running the risk of causing a good deal of injury in various quarters. There are three parties to this particular problem: the people of Canada, the people of Newfoundland and the people of this country. There is also a great deal of back history and there are certain elements in that back history, to which I think most of us will prefer not to refer. In fact, it is an extremely delicate subject. The noble Lord who has moved the Motion has approached the subject purely, or almost entirely, on a constitutional issue. He has, in other words, approached it on the way things have been done, rather than on what was intended should happen. I do not think those two aspects can be dissociated one 633 from the other. Though I do not intend to refer to the rather delicate subjects I have mentioned. I do not consider, unfortunately, that it is possible, to look at the present situation without having regard to and a very acute memory of the past.
May I take one particular point to which I should like to revert—that of the economic situation of Newfoundland to-day? I believe it to be quite misleading to say that because the revenues of Newfoundland from 1941 to 1947 exceeded expenditure, that necessarily means that the Dominion of Newfoundland is economically a working proposition. There are a number of factors in war which entirely vitiate the economic situation of any country. Without disrespect to any of the parties concerned, may I be allowed to mention the case of one British Crown Colony which has for many years past been, and is again, in deficit and has required grants-in-aid? I refer to British Somaliland. I could show a period when I was associated with the administration of that Colony during the war which was a time of great prosperity, a period in which there was a very large excess of revenues over expenditure. If I took the average of the period from 1940 to 1947, I could show conclusively that British Somaliland was a prosperous country with a working surplus. Everyone knows that that is not the case, and the prospects of that Crown Colony being a solvent economic proposition are to-day. I am afraid, remote.
The economic situation of Newfoundland, during the war, was affected by a number of, shall we say, non-recurring factors. Some of those factors still persist. There are, of course, American bases and American expenditure in Newfoundland, and there is the revenue, direct and indirect, derived by reason of Newfoundland being a refuelling and stopping point for trans-Atlantic aircraft. I should require a great deal more convincing than is to be obtained by reading any of the figures which I have seen that either of those two sources of revenue was likely profoundly to alter the economic situation of Newfoundland in the long run.
Broadly speaking, there are only two main assets on which the Dominion has had to depend in the past and on which 634 it would have to depend in the future if it were to remain an independent self-governing Dominion They are timber, with some possible mineral development, and fish. It will be well known to your Lordships that the fisheries have depended largely on the sale of dried cod, which is a diminishing, factor in Newfoundland commerce. In fact, though some people have a taste for dried cod—people in South America and certain Mediterranean countries for instance—I cannot help feeling that there are preferable methods of preserving the fish which would make it more appetising and do a great deal more to popularise it than bacalhao, much as I like it. These are the sort of factors which I do not think justify anyone saying that because Newfoundland revenues exceeded expenditure from 1941 to 1947, Newfoundland has achieved the possibility of economic existence.
I am afraid that I remain of the opinion which I have always held, that Newfoundland as an economic proposition is not viable in the long run as an independent unit any more than any of the maritime provinces of Canada would be had they remained independent. Is it conceivable that even Nova Scotia, let alone Prince Edward Island, might become and remain an independent and self-supporting economic entity? It does not even bear thinking about, and I am afraid that the case for Newfoundland is somewhat similar. To argue from that basis fairly, one must go back not only to 1934 but to the years antecedent to 1934 and one must bear in mind the circumstances which caused the economic situation that led to the Commission of Government. If those factors are taken into account, we are all, in one form or another, faced with trying to find a solution—we in this country, the people of Newfoundland, and the people of their great neighbour, the Dominion of Canada. A solution that has been proposed (I will come in a minute to the method being adopted to achieve it) is for Newfoundland to enter the Dominion as the founders of the Federation had originally conceived. That, I submit to your Lordships, is the right answer and the only answer which is practical from everybody’s point of view.
Of the many arguments that have been advanced, and upon which the noble Lord who moved this Motion has touched, a great deal of play—in my view, too much 635 —has been made of the financial issue, so far as Newfoundland is concerned. We have been told that entry into the Dominion will involve Newfoundland in a higher rate of income tax and also, possibly, in disadvantages in import restrictions. The bulk of people in Newfoundland for whom we should have most thought and care are the vast majority who pay no income tax; they are the people who suffered most during the miserable years that preceded 1934, for which I am afraid we in this country must take a great responsibility. Let us face the fact that in a large part it was the trading methods of those who traded with Newfoundland which reduced a large part of her population to the state of poverty and abjectness described in the First Commission’s Report, when the Commission of Government was appointed. And since we in this country were mainly responsible for that, we are now responsible for finding a solution to this problem, which has not yet been solved.
We have had, and to some extent still have, in Newfoundland, if I am rightly informed, a situation resembling the worst usages which led to the Truck Acts in this country, though the situation is better than it was fourteen years ago. Would it not be to condemn those people to an infinite period of that sort of life to suggest that they should go back to a precarious economic existence as an independent and self-governing Dominion? I hope your Lordships will agree with me that that short summary is not an unfair statement of the position. I think many of your Lordships will believe that the present solution will be the happiest one for the largest number of people in Newfoundland to-day.
There was one term used by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, which I am sure he did not mean quite as it was used, and which I would like to take up, lest there should be any misunderstanding in Canada about words used in your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord spoke of our being held responsible for having “sold” Newfoundland to Canada. I am sure the noble Lord did not mean that in so many words. I would not like anybody either in Newfoundland or Canada to feel that that was ever our intention or that there is any justification for using these words—if for no other reason than 636 that a sale involves a consideration. Of course no one in this country could have contemplated such a transaction; nor could anybody in Canada be accused of having bought anything or wishing to buy anything. Let us consider for a moment what this proposed entry of Newfoundland into the Dominion of Canada means to the people of Canada. There is no advantage to them, so far as I can see from the figures which I was privileged to see in Canada last autumn. Indeed, it involves a burden of considerable magnitude on the remainder of Canada for many years to come.
The figures of what are called the transitional grants are quoted in Command Paper 7605, on page 11. They amount to tens of millions of dollars at a time when, as we all know, Canada is suffering economically from very considerable stringencies. I cannot believe, I will not believe, the suggestion that the Canadians are doing this in order to get something out of Newfoundland. The figures themselves give the lie to any such accusation. The figures show that Canada will be contributing something to Newfoundland for a very long period. If the Canadians contribute some 50,000,000 dollars to Newfoundland, it seems to me that the people of Newfoundland must have the advantage. It is they who have the advantage, and not our very good friends in Canada, who have made a settlement which I am satisfied in my own mind is a very generous one, and which can only benefit the people of Newfoundland. Nor could it be said that in doing this, the Canadians have relieved this country, because for the last few years, as the noble Lord said, Newfoundland has had a surplus of revenue and we have not had to contribute. In other words, the sole benefit of this very munificent settlement (as I regard it) is to the advantage of Newfoundland and to no one else.
Let me deal with another point of which a great deal of play has been made. It has been suggested, as I believe, most improperly and somewhat offensively, that the people of Canada have sought this amalgamation, this entry into the Confederation, in order to secure the iron ore deposits in Labrador. In the first place, that it not true, for the very simple reason that a large part, though not the whole, of the so-called Labrador iron ore deposits are in the Province of Quebec and not in Labrador at all. Actually, the 637 geological formation runs over the whole of that area of ground through which the boundary between Quebec and Labrador runs as it was delimited under the decision of the Privy Council. I happen to have seen a number of people associated with the development of that Province, and I have heard the opinions of Canadians from the Province of Quebec and elsewhere. I believe there is no quarrel on that issue, and indeed there could not be a quarrel when the major part of that which is to be worked in the immediate future lies, as is admitted on both sides, in the Province of Quebec. There cannot be a question of Canada getting something she has not had before: she has it already.
The last point in that order with which I want to deal—and this I am afraid is a matter of opinion; many of your Lordships will not agree with me, though others perhaps will—is about the referenda. I am not talking about whether a referendum was constitutionally right or wrong, but about the results. One can always argue, as we know only too well in this country, upon what votes really mean. There is no doubt that if a poll had been taken of the population of the United Kingdom, not divided into constituencies, the supporters of His Majesty’s present Government would not be in office, as they are a minority—I think about 47 per cent. of the electorate voted for, and 53 per cent. against them. They happen, however, to have a very large majority in another place.
Anybody could argue that the figures of the second Newfoundland referendum, which showed a majority in favour of entry into the Dominion might, if that poll had been taken by constituencies, have shown a vastly bigger majority in favour of entry into Canada. I do not know whether it would; but the noble Lord opposite says it would. It may be that it would, and it may be that it would not; one cannot argue on hypothetical calculations, but it is a possibility. It is not legitimate, therefore, to say that because the majority was not so large as some people thought it ought to be it did not express the views of the people as a whole, or that those views, had they been expressed in another way, might have been different—or, indeed, that they might have reinforced the particular result. So much for some of the argu- 638 ments against the citify of Newfoundland into Canada, and for the re-making of the Newfoundland Government and Newfoundland’s maintenance as a self-governing Dominion.
I now come to the most important part of what the noble Lord who opened the debate has said—namely, the method. With the very small knowledge I have of constitutional matters and procedure I would not dream of going into the reasons for the adoption of the particular methods which were adopted. But I must admit—and I know I share this view with a great many people, including many of your Lordships—that I have an uncomfortable feeling that the way it has been done has not been happy. I think we are all a little uncomfortable. One might have hoped that greater thought would be given to the way in which such a big change in people’s lives and their government was effected, and that a different conclusion might have been reached. I can see that it would have been perfectly fair to restore an Independent Government, and proceed by way of an Election or a referendum after that. As it is, however, I am unhappy about the way it has been done. In a book called Murder in the Cathedral, which many of your Lordships have no doubt read, the Bishop Thomas is tempted by the classical tempters, and finally by the fourth tempter who holds before him the possibility of the Crown of Martyrdom. The Bishop is for a time tempted, and then in his prayer he prays: Save me from the greatest treason Of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
LORD AMMON My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has adequately answered the case that has been put by the noble Lord who opened this debate, and I might well have left the matter there. However, Ism hoping that in a few words I may be able to show your Lordships that, far from any injustice being done to Newfoundland, she has been treated with the utmost generosity; and, further, that all the fundamental laws of democracy have been observed. I think I may remove even the little unhappiness felt by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell. I suppose there is not one of us but who feels a sentimental twinge at the parting, shall I say, of this our oldest Dominion. New- 639 foundland represented practically the first stone of the Empire. Ever since then her people have had a troubled and chequered career. They have never been able to develop their resources, not even from the time when John Cabot first landed there in 1497, which was some eighty-six years before Sir Humphrey Gilbert went in and took possession in the name of Queen Elizabeth. Then they had trouble with the Star Chamber, who wanted to make Newfoundland solely a fishing station and to prevent every means of developing which they could. Out of that, it is just as well to remember, flowed the present spread of population and conditions as we have them now—a small community scattered round 6,000 miles of coast, which has made it impossible to develop social services, or local government, or by any means to achieve national progress or a national programme. That point must be remembered when we are considering the problems put before us.
The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, asked me a question (I will try to deal with the other questions, but I particularly want to deal with this one) whether it is not a fact that since 1941 Newfoundland has been more or less on a sound economic footing. That is very much on the lines of the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” because since 1941 Newfoundland has taken advantage of the conditions that flowed naturally out of a state of war. Until 1933, when the Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, went out there, they were in debt to no less an extent than 101,000,000 dollars—and that on a population of 280,000 (one need not dwell very much on that point)—and they had little or no trade outside. It is as well to remember that the Commission of Government went out there, not as a Commission imposed upon the Dominion from this side but at the request of Newfoundland. The then Government of Newfoundland asked that we should step in and take control of affairs. It was only then, when Newfound-was put into the hands of the Commission of Government, and something like order and proper conditions of administration came into effect, that some degree of stability was obtained.
From that point perhaps it would be just as well if I endeavoured to show your Lordships’ House exactly how the present condition from a constitutional 640 point of view arose. I do not stray further than the constitutional position, because in accordance with the gracious Speech from the Throne there will come up in another place, and subsequently here, a Bill dealing with the British North America position in which the wider question will be debated. For the moment, I am concerned with trying to demonstrate that everything has been done to follow along constitutional lines in order that justice might be done to Newfoundland. This question was raised by myself, if my memory serves me rightly, on May 3, 1944. in this House—in fact, it was my maiden speech. In the course of that debate the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, Lord Salisbury, who was then the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, made an authoritative statement of the policy which was being pursued by His Majesty’s Government then and which has been continued since.
Perhaps your Lordships will bear with me if I quote the germane extracts from that speech. The noble Marquess said: As soon as practicable after the end of the war, that is, the war in Europe, machinery must be provided for enabling the Newfoundland people to examine the future of the island and to express their considered views as to the form of government they desire, having regard to the financial and economic conditions prevailing at the time. In the meantime the Secretary of State will take soundings in order to ascertain what kind of machinery would be acceptable to the Newfoundland people. If the general wish of the people should be for a return to full responsible government, we for our part shall he very ready, if the island is then self-supporting, to facilitate such a change. If, however, the general wish should be either for the continuance of the present form of government or for some change of system which would fall short of full responsible government, we shall be prepared to examine such proposals sympathetically and consider within what limits the continued acceptance of responsibility by the United Kingdom could be recommended to Parliament. Subsequently, my noble friend who now leads the House, and who was then Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, announced to your Lordships on December 11, 1945, that, in pursuance of the statement of policy to which I have referred, His Majesty’s Government had decided to set up in Newfoundland an elected National Convention of Newfoundlanders, whose terms of reference would be as follows: To consider and discuss among themselves, as elected representatives of the Newfoundland 641 people, the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934 and, bearing in mind the extent to which the high revenues of recent years have been due to war-time conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to His Majesty’s Government as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum. Elections to the Convention took place in the summer of 1946, and the forty-five members met in St. John’s in September of that year. In May of the following year the Convention sent a delegation to the United Kingdom to inquire what relations could be expected between His Majesty’s Government and the Newfoundland Government under various forms of Constitution. Your Lordships will recall that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House made a statement on May 13, 1947, as to the outcome of the discussions which he had with this delegation.
The National Convention subsequently elected another delegation to visit Canada and to discuss with Canadian Ministers and officials the questions which would arise in the event of Newfoundland deciding to join the Canadian Confederation. Following these talks, the Canadian Government sent to the Governor of Newfoundland, for communication to the Convention, the terms on which they considered that confederation could be carried through. In due course, the National Convention made recommendations to His Majesty’s Government. The Convention proposed two alternatives on which the people might be advised to vote—namely, the restoration of responsible government as it existed prior to 1934 (and it is important to remember that the restoration of the Government prior to 1934 was the Government that had been superseded by the Commission)—or the retention of the Commission form of government. A considerable minority of the Convention voted that the issue of confederation with Canada should be added to the ballot paper. His Majesty’s Government, bearing in mind that strong minority view, felt that it was desirable that the people should be given the opportunity of voting on the issue of confederation with Canada. They therefore decided that this third choice should be included on the ballot paper. Arrangements were thereupon made for the hold- 642 ing of a referendum, at which the three issues to which I have referred would be put before the people. The first referendum, which took place on June 3, 1948, gave the following result: For Commission of Government 22,311 votes; for confederation with Canada 64,066 votes; and for the restoration of responsible government 69,400 votes.
As no one form of government received an absolute majority over the other two combined, a further referendum was held on July 22. This referendum resulted in 78,323 votes for confederation with Canada, and 71,334 votes for the restoration of responsible government. I might intervene here to say that, after all, the result was actually more decisive than the figures themselves show, because no less than 85 per cent. of the whole electorate voted, and of that 85 per cent., 52 per cent. voted for confederation. Out of the twenty-five electoral districts, eighteen recorded their votes in favour of confederation—I think that might relieve somewhat the feelings of the noble Lord—and seven districts noted for responsible government.
Let me make the position clear with regard to what the male Lord who opened the debate said about the people in the outports not having an opportunity to record their votes. As a matter of fact, it was the outports who decided this vote. It was the towns who largely voted for the restoration of responsible government, but it was the outports, who were, as I found when. I was there, dominated in St. John’s and had little or no say in the affairs, who determined the result of that particular election. I think that should be borne in mind, and that one should not dwell too much on the actual figures, because the whole population is Dilly 280,000, and when you add up the numbers who voted and take from the remainder at least 65,000 schoolchildren, you have not a very large number of people who might have recorded their votes.
The Canadian Government at once considered the results of the second referendum. On July 30, 1948, the Prime Minister of Canada announced that as the result of the plebiscite in favour of union between the two countries was—I quote his words—”clear and beyond possibility of misunderstanding,” the Canadian Government would be gl id to receive authorised representatives of Newfound- 643 land to negotiate the terms of union. Mr. Mackenzie King added an assurance that in those negotiations any special problems which might arise in connection with the entry of Newfoundland into confederation would receive most careful consideration before any final action was taken. His Majesty’s Government issued a Statement on the same day saying that they, for their part, as the Government responsible for the administration of Newfoundland, were in agreement with the views expressed by Mr. Mackenzie King.
Representatives of Newfoundland were thereupon appointed to proceed to Ottawa to negotiate the final terms of union. Following full and friendly discussions, the terms were signed by the Canadian and Newfoundland representatives on December 11 last. A White Paper—which is on the Table—has been published and is now before your Lordships, giving the full text of those terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has pointed out, those terms are very generous indeed. Let us see what they amount to. For a period of twelve years transitional grants are going to be made to Newfoundland. In the first three years they amount to no less than 6,500,000 dollars per year, gradually scaling down until in the twelfth year the figure will be 350,000 dollars. So, far from having been “sold,” it looks as if Newfoundland has made a very good bargain and come out of the business very well indeed.
As your Lordships will remember, it was stated in the gracious Speech from the Throne at the opening of the present Session that legislation would be laid before Parliament to give effect to whatever decisions might result from the negotiations for admitting Newfoundland to the Canadian Confederation. His Majesty’s Government in Canada are shortly expected to ask the Canadian Parliament to submit an Address requesting that an Act should be passed by Parliament at Westminster confirming the terms of union of Newfoundland with Canada. These terms and the Bill which will be presented to your Lordships’ House are the outcome of the policy to which I have referred and of the decisions freely arrived at by a majority of the people of Newfoundland in the referendum of July, 1948.
644 That, my Lords, is the actual statement of policy. It remains for me now only to answer such as I have not already answered of the direct questions that were put to me. The noble Lord asked me about the referendum figures. I have no hesitation in saying that an analysis of the figures shows that they represent the truth as clearly as they possibly could, and that everything was done under proper democratic conditions. The noble Lord also made reference to the matter of responsible Government. What has to be borne in mind is that the question which was put to the Newfoundlanders was whether they wished to go back to responsible government as it was before 1934. Their answer was most emphatic that they do not want to go back. And that was what one felt everywhere one went. The late Viscount Bennett, who knew something about this problem and with whom we discussed the matter when we had the debate of 1944, said, in the course of the debate: The fact is the Report of a Commission indicated that all the money that was borrowed did not find its last lodging place in the development of the country! That to a great extent led up to the position of affairs which has resulted so disastrously in recent times. The other matter I have already referred to, and that is the possibility since 1941 of a purely artificial prosperity resulting from war conditions. I might mention, in passing, that, since the war, Newfoundland from the strategic point of view has taken a much more prominent and important position than before.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, referred to the question of finance. It is just as well to remember that, under the form of government existing hitherto, the mass of the people have lived under conditions of something like poverty, with little or no social services. By reason of the fact that the population is spread out as it is, there is no local government whatsoever. One of the things that one tried to inculcate, when one went there, was a sense of the importance of local government. But matters are made much more difficult because means of communication are so slender. In the winter time there is no road across the Island, and, except for one local railway, there is hardly any means of transport. Moreover, their 645 form of taxation bears of necessity very hardly on the poorest members of the community. In the pamphlet to which the noble Lord referred, and for which I was responsible, I said this: Under the present system, approximately 75 pet cent. of the revenue is derived from customs duties, 7½ per cent, from income and 2½ per cent. from liquor profits, thus being largely indirect and condemned by all in Newfoundland except a few rich merchants who consider that they are already sufficiently sacrificed to direct taxation. In the words of the Amulree Commission, ‘The tariff is not the outcome of a scientifically considered policy.’ One obvious and serious result is that the heaviest burden necessarily falls on the poor. Price control is also necessary. At present the merchant not only passes on to the consumer the import tax, but adds about 30 per cent. as his profit on the whole. The Amulree Commission remark that if prices were high, that was attributed to the machinations of the merchant or shopkeeper. The effect of the high tariff was not appreciated. Freedom from any requirement to make a direct contribution to the expenses of administration produce an indifference to waste and extravagance. Another point to which the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, made reference was that the fishermen are never out of debt. They are supplied by merchants or financiers with their fishing gear and they are never able to pay off the debt. As they bring in the result of their catch, it is taken by the merchant or financier. That is one of the things that led to the decision of the Commission.
Here we have an Island that has been for about five hundred years attached to the British Empire, and somehow it has never been able to get quite free to develop and grow in the manner it ought to do. I suppose a finer body of people cannot be found anywhere than the Newfoundlanders. They are more British than the British, because there is hardly any other mixture of blood in the population; and perhaps one of the reasons for that is that there is no means of making money except by hard work! That may account for it in some degree. I found a feeling that there undoubtedly could be further development, and that the country could carry a larger population. I believe it can be done, with the co-operation and help of our Canadian friends, who are entering into this matter in a true and right spirit, not with any hope that they are going to make anything out of it themselves, but that if there is anything valuable there they may give the country a full oppor- 646 tunity to develop it in a way that has never yet been done. By that means, not only will Newfoundland be benefiting herself, so far as most of the people are concerned, but I believe that the Empire as a whole will be strengthened.
VISCOUNT SWINTON My Lords, this is not an easy debate in which to take part. Deputising as I am for the noble Marquess, I very much wish that he were here to-day. It is right that I should say a word or two however, and I am sure your Lordships will expect me to do so. Of course, in any debate on this subject, we are in fact discussing what is virtually a fat accompli. When the Bill to establish the new Constitution of Newfoundland comes before us, we shall have the opportunity and the duty of considering that in great detail, and I think it right that we should confine ourselves to-day within a narrow compass on what is an important issue.
On reflection, I think that the noble Lord who moved this Motion will feel that he overstated his case, certainly in some particulars. I refer not so much to his legal arguments, with which I do not think I am qualified to deal, but to what I may call his political arguments. He said that in the action which had been taken we were tampering with democracy. Whether or not we have acted wisely in the way in which this has been done, certainly I think the last charge that could be brought against His Majesty’s Government, or against either House of Parliament—because we are all involved in this—is that we have been tampering with democracy. After all, what does democracy mean? If it means anything, it means that the freely-expressed will of a people of a country should prevail. Moreover, I am sure that His Majesty’s Government in this country, and His Majesty’s Government in Canada, had only one intention, one desire—namely, that in the most effective way possible the people of Newfoundland should be consulted as to what they wished their future to be and should express that view.
I feel that that ought to be said, because we all have a responsibility in this matter. I do not think that anything should go out indicating that there was the faintest intention anywhere, in any Government or in any Parliament, other 647 than that of giving Newfoundland that democratic chance. I think it is also fair to say that no one in either House challenged the announcement made on March 15, 1948, when the despatch to the Governor was published, of the form that the referendum would take and how it would be conducted, although we did understand that there would be three stages in this course. If the noble Viscount the Leader of the House casts his mind back, he will remember that, after he had made his statement, the Leader of the Opposition said (I paraphrase it): “I take it then that there will be three stages in this matter: A convention will sit. The convention will draw up its conclusions and forward them to His Majesty’s Government; and then a plebiscite will be taken.” The reference to that is Hansard of December 11, 1945, columns 544 and 545. Lord Cranborne (as he then was) stated: … I take it that His Majesty’s Government … have no intention of precluding the people of Newfoundland from voting on the alternatives which the Convention may recommend. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, then said: I welcome the noble Lord’s supplementary question. His Majesty’s Government have no such intention. They hope that the Convention will be able to frame their recommendations in the form of questions to be submitted to the people of Newfoundland at the referendum. I am bound to say that we who sit in either House must all agree that not only was a plebiscite foreseen but it was expressly provided for in the action which was taken.
I would go further and say that, assuming constitutional government in the old form had been re-established in Newfoundland, any Government would, I believe, have been morally bound to submit as an issue to the people of Newfoundland what they wished their future to be. Supposing that without any question we had restored constitutional government to Newfoundland, the same issues would have been there. The constitutional process followed would not have altered the economic or the physical facts of the situation, and any Newfoundland Government would have been morally bound to submit to the people of Newfoundland what their future should be. I am not in favour of a referendum is a normal process, for I think it is a 648 bad normal process. I believe that to refer every sort and kind of matter on a referendum destroys Government responsibility, in the sense that a Government should take responsibility.
But it is an entirely different question when the whole future of a country has to be decided and when, as in this case, a perfectly simple issue can be put in a way which everybody must understand, in which everybody has an interest and upon which everybody, therefore, can give a direct vote. I do not think you ever get a vote of that kind at an Election. Even where there is the “hottest” issue at an Election, nobody will say that it is entirely decided on that issue. On this referendum, however, though the majority was not a large one, I do not think anybody would suggest other than that every single person who cast his vote in Newfoundland knew what he was voting for. Therefore, I believe the only practical way in which the decision could be taken by the people of Newfoundland was on a plebiscite. In the circumstances of the case, surely, a direct plebiscite was the practical and democratic way of giving the people of Newfoundland their opportunity?
I think that this House really accepted that—indeed, that both Houses did, as far back as December, 1945. But I do not think we anticipated there would be so much hurry; we anticipated rather closer consultation. On this I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rennell. While, in my opinion, the taking of a plebiscite was undoubtedly necessary, and while I have no doubt that the result would have been the same—though it may be that the voting would have been stronger than it was—a closer consultation and adherence to what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, called “the three stages” would, I feel, have been wise, and would probably have resulted in the people of Newfoundland feeling that they had been more closely consulted in the matter, or at any rate that they had had more time to make their representations.
But, my Lords, that is a criticism of the method it is not a criticism of the result. If I may say so (though it is entirely a matter for the people of Newfoundland to decide) I cannot resist the feeling that they have taken a wise decision. Behind them now, for they will not enter Canada in some inferior 649 status, but will presumably have the full status of a province of that great Dominion, they will have the whole financial and economic strength of the Dominion of Canada. Having read the terms which were negotiated between the representatives of Newfoundland and the Canadian Government, I consider that the terms are generous and certainly, if I were looking upon it as an economic question, I would have no doubt as to where the balance of interest in this matter lies.
I take it that we shall have in the Bill which will have to be introduced in this country a clause setting out what is to be the future Constitution of Newfoundland as a province, and we shall then see exactly what rights are to be given. When the noble Lord who moved this Motion reflects upon that, and casts his mind on to how wide are the powers in all local government matters in a province of the Dominion of Canada, I think, he will not consider that Newfoundland, by the step which she is taking, is surrendering her freedom; but rather that in the greater entity of the Dominion of Canada she is maintaining her freedom and ensuring her prosperity. My Lords, I thought it right to say as much as I have. I think the only conclusion of this House in the circumstances in which we find ourselves (I hope it will be unanimous) will be that this decision having been taken by the people of Newfoundland, we wish them God-speed.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT) My Lords, by strange ill-fortune the Leader of the House, who ought to be replying to this discussion because he gave a great deal of time and thought to it as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, is prevented from so doing by reason of the fact that he has a bad throat. I am in the unhappy position, therefore, of having to try to do what he would have done, whilst he listens. But he has always been benign to me, and I have no doubt he will be to-day! Had the noble Viscount been replying, however, I think he would have felt, after the speeches we have heard in this debate, that there is little that need be said. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, so well informed as it was, so enriched by his personal knowledge of the subject, has, 650 I think, left me little to answer, and I shall therefore occupy only a very short space of your Lordships’ time.
So far as the legal issue is concerned, it is, of course, the fact that our Parliament is a sovereign Parliament, and one cannot place any restriction upon what our Parliament may do. It has been said that Parliament may do everything except turn a man into a woman. If Parliament enacted that, the courts would have to proceed on the assumption that the change had been made. Therefore legally there is no doubt that our Parliament is competent to do what it desires. But a difficulty arises. Your Lordships will remember that the Newfoundland Act of 1933 provided for the suspension, for a temporary period, of the existing government and contemplated that on request we should restore that government. There obviously is a lacuna, because it was never provided how the request was to be made. It was laid down that the government should not be restored until a request was made, and there was no provision as to how the request could be made or who could make it. That was the difficulty. As to whether Newfoundland is or is not self-supporting, I will not attempt to add to the observations that have been made, nor to detract from them. But this, at least, is quite plain: that there never has been a request for the restoration of responsible government. Such a request could have been made on two occasions, but it was not made.
That being so, we cannot follow the Act of 1933, which sets out in the Annexe the following extract from the Royal Commission: 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. There were two conditions for the restoration of responsible government. One was that the Island’s difficulties would be overcome, and the second was that a request had been made, and a request has never been made. There being that lacuna, it is obvious, is it not, if one tries to follow democratic processes, that the best form of request one can get is a request from the people by means of a plebiscite. What better authority for a request can one have? So the matter was 651 referred to the people in the plebiscite, and again the people have not by a majority requested the restoration of responsible government. On the contrary, in the second plebiscite which was taken, the people requested by a substantial majority—more substantial still if one considers the electoral district divisions in which the vote was taken—that there should be union with Canada. Consequently, negotiations have take place and provisional terms have been drawn up.
I agree with Lord Rennell that this is rather a delicate subject at the present time, because I believe that at this very moment of time the Canadian Parliament are debating the matter—at any rate, if they are not actually doing so now they will be in a few days’ time. But the Agreement has been drawn up and it contains this clause: These terms are agreed to subject to their being approved by the Parliament of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland; shall take effect notwithstanding the Newfoundland Act. 1933, or any instrument issued pursuant thereto; and shall come into force immediately before the expiration of the thirty-first day of March. 1949, if His Majesty has theretofore given His Assent to an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland confirming the same. Consequently, before March 31 proposals will be made to confirm the terms of this Agreement and, of course it will be open to your Lordships, if you are so minded, to discuss and debate the terms.
The terms provide for the future constitution of Newfoundland as a province of Canada. They set out in full the details of the Constitution. They provide how many members Newfoundland is to return to the Canadian Senate and to the Canadian House of Commons. Indeed, they deal with all aspects of the matter. I must say, though I do not pose as an expert in this matter at all, that it seems to me that the proposals Canada is making are by no means ungenerous. It certainly is a fact that for many years to come this will entail a heavy burden on the people of Canada. Therefore, any suggestion to the effect that we have “sold” Newfoundland, or anything of that sort, is quite beside the point. We, in this country, have not sought to take and have not in fact taken a penny piece out of it, and Canada, for her part, is also paying, a very heavy price for the 652 chance of getting Newfoundland going again.
I have never been to Newfoundland, and I have never seen it, but I have read many papers about it. I am not going to impute blame to one Party or to any one group of people, but I do think that we all shamefully neglected our duties there. The fact that there is not a road, or hardly a road, on the Island, the fact that there is practically no education and the fact that such things as a drainage system are really non-existent, seem to indicate that it is a great pity that in the old days, when we had rather more money than we have to-day, we did not spend some of it on the development of that island. But we did not do so, and there were, as we all know, unhappy incidents with regard to the Island, on which none of us need now dwell. What we have to consider is what can best be done in the interests of the people of the Island. In this connection I would like to say that all those people with whom I have discussed the matter believe that this is the best proposal.
The people of Canada, subject to what their Parliament says in the next few days, appear to be willing to take on this onerous responsibility. They will try to give the people of Newfoundland some of the benefits which the various provinces of Canada now enjoy. And to be a province of Canada is to be well within the bounds of democracy and democratic Government. I therefore submit to your Lordships that the course which we are taking is the right one, and I venture to hope that the opportunity which is now given may not be lost. However that may be, obviously in the course of a few days—certainly in a few weeks—your Lordships will have before you a Bill (that is, presuming the proposal goes through the Canadian Parliament) confirming the Agreement which has been come to, on which your Lordships, if so minded, can make what pronouncement you like.
LORD AMMON My Lords, may I, with your Lordships’ permission, correct a slight misstatement which I made during the course of my speech. I said that, speaking from my experience when there, there was no direct taxation on the island. I am informed that now 60 per cent. of the revenue comes from direct taxation. There is also in operation 653 some system of local government. I apologise to the House, and, as your Lordships will note, I have taken the first opportunity open to me to correct my mistake.
LORD SEMPILL My Lords, I would like to thank the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack for his intervention in the debate. I have taken careful note of what he said. I thank also my noble friend, Lord Ammon, for his long speech. When my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned that Lord Ammon would like to speak again, I thought that perhaps Lord Ammon was having second thoughts, and I hoped that he was going to give way to my suggestion. I learn now that I was wrong. I thank your Lordships who have spoken in this debate. I cannot say that, personally, I am at all satisfied with the replies—it would not be right if I said I was. I ask your Lordships’ leave to withdraw my Motion and, in doing so, I would like to say that I propose at the earliest possible moment to introduce a Bill to be entitled “The Newfoundland Liberation Bill,” and I will take the normal steps to that end. I thank your Lordships.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
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