UK, HL, “Newfoundland”, vol 138 (1945), cols 541-545

Document Information

Date: 1945-12-11
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Newfoundland“, vol 138 (1945), cols 541-545.
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Viscount Cranborne My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, a question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether His Majesty’s Government have any statement to make in regard to future policy towards Newfoundland.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Viscount Addison) My Lords, since assuming office the Government have reviewed the position in relation to Newfoundland. Before proceeding to describe the measure which we propose, I should like to refer briefly to three preliminary points. First, as a result of war-time developments and of the special conditions that have obtained during the war, the financial position of the island has been transformed during the last five years. It has been self-supporting since 1941 and has built up an accumulated surplus which now stands at approximately 25,000,000 dollars. Secondly, under the agreement made with the Newfoundland people in 1933 a pledge was given that as soon as the island’s difficulties had been overcome arid the country was again self-supporting, responsible government, on request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored. In a statement made in Parliament in December, 1943, on behalf of the Coalition Government, it was made clear that the whole policy of the United Kingdom was governed by this undertaking.

Thirdly, such being the general background, it was further indicated in the same statement that as soon as practicable after the end of the war, machinery would 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.

His Majesty’s Government for their part, fully endorse the statement of policy made on behalf of the Coalition Government in 1943 arid intend to proceed as speedily as possible with the setting up of appropriate machinery for this purpose. This they consider, after consultation with the Commission of Government, could most suitably take the form of an elected National Convention of Newfoundlanders. They accordingly propose the following programme:

Elections to a National Convention will be held in the early summer of 1946 as soon as climatic conditions permit—probably in the first half of June. All adults will be entitled to vote and the elections will be held on the basis of the constituencies of 1925 with such variations as may be found desirable in the light of the new census which is being taken in Newfoundland this year. Candidates for election will be required to have been bona-fide residents for at least two years in the districts they seek to represent, war service not being regarded as a break in residence.

It will be the duty of the Convention to review all the alternative courses open to the island and to make recommendations to His Majesty’s Government as a basis for a national referendum. It is fitting, therefore, that it should be given wide terms of reference, and these will take the following form: To consider and discuss amongst themselves, as elected representatives of the Newfoundland 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 wartime 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.

The Convention will be presided over by a Judge of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. In order that members may be given adequate guidance on constitutional forms and procedure it is contemplated that an expert adviser from the United Kingdom would be […]

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[…] available to assist the Convention as required. His Majesty’s Government further propose to prepare and to make available to the Convention when it meets a factual and objective statement on the financial and economic situation. This would analyse developments in revenue and expenditure since 1934, give particulars of the cost of maintaining the various public and social services, review the country’s import and export trade and the main branches of economic activity, and survey the principal lines of policy followed by the Commission of Government and their financial implications. This statement will be made available to Parliament at the same time.

The intention would be that the Convention should meet as soon as practicable after the elections. If, as is hoped, the discussions at the Convention should result in a sufficiently marked consensus of opinion to enable recommendations as to the future course of action to be submitted to the United Kingdom Government, the next step would be for such recommendations to be considered by His Majesty’s Government. It would thereafter be possible to hold a referendum at which the issues could be put to the Newfoundland people for their decision.

Under this procedure there will be full scope for the whole constitutional question to be examined by a representative body of Newfoundlanders, and then decided by the Newfoundland people themselves. In the meantime the Commission of Government have been giving continuous study to the reconstruction needs of the island. These may be f into short term and long term. So far as the former are concerned, the Commission have already put in hand a series of measures designed to meet the more pressing requirements of the next two or three years These include a comprehensive scheme, which has been received with general approval in the island, for the rehabilitation of ex-Service men, and schemes for fishery development, land settlement, the improvement of communications and hospital and educational services. It is clearly necessary that these schemes should proceed without interruption and provision for implementing them will accordingly continue to be made in the island’s annual Budget. There need be no apprehension therefore that progress […]

  •        (p. 544)

[…] in equipping the island to meet the needs of the future will in any way be slowed down by the arrangements now proposed for enabling the constitutional issue to be determined.

Longer-term measures are; however, in a somewhat different category, since any new Government would no doubt wish to frame its own development policy and care must be taken to see that it is left the maximum freedom to do so, consistent with reasonable continuity. In other words, the aim of the Commission must be to forge ahead with immediate measures but on longer-term schemes to retain a measure of flexibility pending the settlement of the constitutional issue. The Commission of Government will, however, make available to the Convention information respecting the order of development and reconstruction expenditure which in their view is likely to be required over the next ten years.

Our relations with Newfoundland have been so special and Newfoundlanders have played such a gallant part in the war that it would, I know, be the wish of us all to assure to any new Government which may take over in the island the fairest possible start. But we must all be careful not to promise what we may not be able to perform, and the special difficulties of our financial position over the next few years may well preclude us from undertaking fresh commitments. As your Lordships will understand from what I have said, the object of the procedure proposed by His Majesty’s Government is to enable the people of Newfoundland to come to a free and informed decision as soon as possible on their future form of Government. I know that this House, which has always been solicitous for the welfare of the people of the island, will wish them well in the exercise of their choice.

Viscount Cranborne My Lords, I should like to thank the Leader of the House for the very important statement of policy he has made which will require very careful consideration by your Lordships, but I would like to ask him one further question now for the purpose of elucidating what he has just said. As I understand the position, there would be three stages in the Government’s plan to enable the people of Newfoundland to decide their constitutional future: first, the proposed Convention will sit; next, the conclusions of the Convention will be […]

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[…] forwarded to His Majesty’s Government, and finally, a plebiscite will be held at which the issues will be put before the people of the island. I take it that while, clearly, His Majesty’s Government must reserve the right to consider the conclusions reached by the Convention, they have no intention of precluding the people of Newfoundland from voting on the alternatives which the Convention may recommend.

Viscount Addison 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.

Viscount Cranborne  I have one further question which is obviously of great interest to Parliament. If, after we have given the statement full consideration at an appropriate date a debate seems desirable, I take it the Government will give the matter sympathetic consideration.

Viscount Addison signified assent.

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