UK, House of Commons, “Canada Government Bill”, vol 53, cols 1053-1068 (13 April 1840)

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Date: 1840-04-13
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Canada Government Bill“, vol 53 (1840), cols 1053-1068.
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Lord J. Russell moved the order of the day for

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the second reading of the Canada Government Bill,

Mr. Pakington said, he rose to appeal once more to the noble Lord, and to request him not to push on this important stage of this most important measure at the present moment, when the House was so thin, and when there had been no time to consider maturely its provisions. A great number of hon. Members had gone out of town, and he sincerely trusted that the noble Lord would not press the second reading till after Easter. Since he had last made an appeal to the noble Lord on this subject, he had discovered a precedent for postponement, which was so closely in point, that he hoped it would have some influence upon the decision of the noble Lord. In 1791, Mr. Pitt brought forward the Canada bill, which the noble Lord now sought to repeal by the present bill. Mr. Pitt appointed the 21st of April for the House going into committee on that bill, and it had been agreed that the discussion should be taken on that stage of the measure.

The discussion had in fact, as in the present case, been fixed for a day immediately before Easter, and Mr. Sheridan objected to that course, and asked for postponement on the grounds that hon. Members had gone out of town, and that there had not been sufficient time to consider the provisions of the bill. Mr. Pitt at once said, that if there was one gentleman in the House who was not ready to enter upon the consideration of the measures, he would put off the discussion at once, and it was accordingly put off till after Easter. Now, the two cases he thought were perfectly analogous, and he fully believed that there was not one Member then present who was ready to go on with the present bill, and to give it that full discussion which it ought to have, before it went through so important a stage as the second reading. He trusted, therefore, that the noble Lord would follow the example of Mr. Pitt, and postpone the second reading of this bill till after Easter. If the noble Lord determined to persevere, he would not allow himself to be drawn into a discussion on the merits of the bill at that time, and he would only state that he objected to a union of the provinces so soon after the troubles by which the colony had been disturbed. If the noble Lord was determined to gain this stage, he could only declare his disapprobation of such a course, and he would reserve to himself

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the right of entering fully into the merits of the bill before the House went into committee upon it.

Sir R. Inglis wished to make the same appeal to the noble Lord, as had just been made by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. The House was very thin, and no one could suppose that his hon. Friends would not have been present, if they had understood, that the noble Lord would positively have brought on the second reading of this important measure. He sincerely trusted, that the bill would be postponed till after Easter.

Lord J. Russell had on a former occasion stated the reasons which induced him to press the second reading of this bill at the present time, and he did not think that those reasons had been weakened or set aside by what had just fallen from hon. Members opposite. He did not think there was any analogy between the present case, and the case which had been cited by the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Pitt had carried the second reading, and had got the sanction of the House to the principle of his bill. It had even gone through committee, and it was upon the question of recommittal that Mr. Pitt had agreed to a postponement. It was of very great importance that this bill should receive a second reading as early as possible, and even after Easter, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, had given notice of another motion regarding the corn-laws, and he might again be asked for postponement, as that motion might give rise to a long debate. If he were to postpone the second reading of this bill, upon such grounds as those which had been stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite, he should not have been justified in bringing it forward at all. He must persist in moving this order of the day for the second reading. He should not, however, fix an early day for the committee, so that hon. Members would have full time to consider the subject before they were called upon to discuss the details.

Order of the day read.

Mr. Hume thought no delay ought to take place in the progress of this measure through that House. Looking at the present state of Canada, he thought every person must be anxious to see an end put to the arbitrary system of government which at present existed in that colony. There would be plenty of time before the re-assembling of the House after Easter,

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for hon. Members to consider the details of the measure, and he hoped no opposition would be offered to the present stage of the bill. For himself, he was anxious to see an imperfect bill passed as early as possible, in order that there might be an end to the arbitrary system of government which had been established in Canada. It would be much better that this bill should pass forthwith, than that any further delay should take place. He should, therefore, offer no opposition to the progress of the bill, though he might suggest some amendments hereafter. At the same time, he did not think that the bill would meet the object in view, of satisfying the people of Canada, and produce peace and unanimity. The principal complaint on their part was the want of responsibility in the councils, and he did not see in this bill any security for responsibility. Opposition to the wishes of the people had led to the state of things which had brought about the revolution. Want of responsibility had been pointed out by Lord Durham, who had suggested a proper remedy. It appeared to him that a great injustice was about to be perpetrated against the French population of Canada. The bill violated the principle of equal justice promised by the noble Lord in his letter to the two colonies. It was intended to swamp the French population, by not giving them a fair share in the representation. He was confident that the same cause of complaint which existed in Upper Canada existed in Lower Canada. The inhabitants of both colonies desired free institutions.

Did the noble Lord imagine, that when the two provinces were united, they would abate one jot of their claim for popular institutions, or that things would go on better than they did before, when there was nothing in the bill to make the councils in harmony with the people? The Executive Council was to be the same as before; the governor was to choose the members as before. What security, then, had the people of Canada that they should have persons in whom they could confide? There was no measure to render the judges independent of the Crown, and they had seen judges removed by Sir John Colborne for their just administration of the law. It was true there was a civil list, and the colonial legislature might give the judges salaries as they pleased; but there ought to be a clause rendering the judges independent

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of the governor. In the next place, the revenues were put under the control of the Home Government, and it was a sine qua non with the people of Canada that the revenues should he placed under the absolute control of the Government of the country; they wanted to have the management of their own affairs; this was the source of all the disputes, and the noble Lord might depend upon it, that the assembly of the united provinces would not let the revenues be administered by Downing-street, the abuses of which had been pointed out by Lord Durham. He therefore repeated that the revenues ought to be managed in the colony, and not at home. Another great cause of complaint was the Crown lands. Was it intended that the Crown lands were to be governed, or misgoverned, as before? No man could say that they had not been mismanaged, and yet, according to the bill, they were to be placed under the management of the Home Government. This was not doing what he expected would have been done—namely, let the Crown lands be administered according to the wishes and interests of the people of Canada.

Another subject was the Church revenues. There was a separate bill respecting the clergy reserves, and to think that it would give content to the people of Canada! What did Lord Durham say?—that it was one of the most important subjects, and that a great part of the troubles of Canada might be attributed to it; for Lord Durham said that a great many well informed persons in Canada had informed him that the state of the clergy reserves had led many to take up arms, and that they should be placed under the local Legislature. He contended that the bill, so far from satisfying the people of Canada, would lead to fresh disturbances, and would prevent that unanimity and harmony so essential to the country. He therefore entered his protest against the principle of the bill. The bill purported to remove grievances and to promote concord; but, so far as he could see, not one grievance was removed, and there would be the same series of troubles as before. If the causes of complaint were allowed to remain, after the examples we had had, it was not to be expected that the measure would be satisfactory to the people of Canada.

Mr. H. G. Knight said, that, as the second reading of this bill was not to be postponed, he wished to say a few words,

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for it did not appear to him that any man who entertained the wish that the Canadas should remain a part of her Majesty’s dominions could behold this day without heaviness of heart; for every man must see in the projected union of the two provinces, and in the form of government which it was proposed to give them, if not the immediate separation of the colony from the mother country, yet a preparation for that separation, and the certainty of its taking place at a greater distance of time; whenever this Bill should become a law he should regard the Canadas as gone; a few years, more or less, might intervene; but this was the beginning of the end.

Under these circumstances he thought the House would do well to pause a moment, and inquire what it was that had led to the present state of things—what it was that had led to the measure which was now before the House? Because, unless you ascertained the true cause of any disease, how was it possible to judge what remedy would be best? He knew he should be told at once that the true cause of this disease was misgovernment, and misgovernment he admitted it to have been; but not that sort of misgovernment which was commonly imputed. It had not been hard usage; it had not been tyranny or oppression; it had been the very reverse; it had been a long series of mistaken conciliation and the premature gift of a free constitution.

He would endeavour to prove what he said, and he would remind the House that when England first became possessed of the Canadas, they were almost exclusively inhabited by a French population not accustomed to British notions, but to the despotic sway of then despotic France. Our first measure was by enactment to substitute the laws and language of England, and it would have been well if this change had been matured before free institutions, neither understood nor desired by the French, had been imparted to the colony. But, from mistaken kindness, by the 14th and 31st of George 3d., the French laws were restored, and a representative Assembly was introduced. To this premature concession might be traced all the evils which had afterwards ensued; for the French, unamalgamated with the English, still attached to France, still hating those by whom they had been subdued, made use of their new power not for the purpose of good legislation, but in

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attempting gradually to emancipate themselves from the yoke of the conqueror. This was the true solution of the problem which had exploded in the rebellion of 1838. All along a few demagogues were the instigators of the movement. The people, long habituated to passive obedience, took little part—and it must be remembered that amongst such a people there existed no public opinion—in one way or the other to affect the proceedings of the representatives. Hatred of England was the one impelling principle, masked under the name of the love of freedom; and this specious pretext induced many British sympathizers to take up the cause of those who said they were oppressed.

These were generous men seduced by an exciting sound; and by what had ensued might be seen what might be done by generous men who suffered themselves to be led away. Others took up the cause from more questionable motives—all combined to embarrass the Government. Grievance after grievance was brought forward by the House of Assembly to keep the caldron bubbling—grievances which a spirit of conciliation laboured to redress; but no sooner was one cause of complaint removed than another was brought forward; whilst by each concession the opponents of Government acquired additional power to prosecute their designs. They derived no little advantage from the use which they made of the celebrated act of 1831; and, accordingly, when it was thought that every complaint had been attended to, in 1834 the House of Assembly produced an unexpected and astounding catalogue of ninety-two fresh grievances. England went on hoping and believing, that it was still possible to conciliate; but how could this be done, when the real object was to get rid of England altogether? By this time British republicans in the colony, and men of the same opinions in this country, began to take part with the French demagogues in the name of liberty and independence, and lent their aid to subvert what they termed the baneful domination of the mother country. At last the demands of an elective Legislature, a responsible executive, and the unconditional surrender of the revenues of the Crown, unmasked the real design. The traitors, finding themselves detected, had recourse to open violence, and the insurrection took place. If the lessons of

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experience were not to be disregarded, we should be taught by the example of the Canadas, not to give constitutions to colonies, at any rate not before they were in a condition to receive them.—Such, continued the hon. Member, has been the progress of events; and can we cast our eyes on this sketch, however imperfectly drawn, without perceiving that the true cause of all the disturbances in the Canadas is to be found in the unaltered feelings and ideas of the French, and in the premature concession of free institutions? and, if this is the true cause of the disease, what should be the remedy? always taking into account that the French Canadian of 1840 differs very little from the French Canadian of 1749.—What, however, is the remedy proposed?

A plan is laid before us, in the concoction of which it is not, I fear, the loyal who have been consulted—a plan which will give a triumph to those who resisted her Majesty’s arms—a plan which is objectionable in many respects, but which, as it has once been announced, it is difficult to withhold. Some persons of weight and experience still recommend that the Provinces should not be united, that Upper and Lower Canada should be kept distinct, that Upper Canada, or the British Province, should be governed by a Representative Assembly, and that, in Lower Canada, the Constitution should, for some years, continue to be suspended. But I cannot think that so anomalous a state of things would work well. I cannot think that such a juxta position of freedom and despotism could be sustained, or that the Canadas would be tranquillized by being half of them under an interdict, which would appear to be so penal and so vindictive. Neither could you keep the provinces distinct, and establish a Representative Assembly in each—for that would only be reviving the pest. But allow me to ask, what will be the feelings of men, what will be the state of parties, in the Canadas, should this bill pass into a law? Of the British part, the loyal will be dispirited, and the disloyal elated;—and what will be the temper of the French? The French who, at this moment, are silent only because they are gagged—the French who struggled for years, and at last rebelled, to shake off the British yoke, to preserve their nationality—the French, who are now plainly told that they are to be swamped, yet whom you cannot prevent

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from obtaining an influential position in the new House of Assembly, if not the preponderance. Is it to be believed that they will submit to the operation of swamping in quiet resignation? Will they not struggle for their laws, their language, their beloved nationality? And if they do, what part will the British republicans take, many of whom will find their way into the new House of Assembly? Admitting that they no longer side with the French—admitting that all the British pull together, and, for a time, accept the support and assistance of England, till the swamping is accomplished, and the amalgamation complete, yet, whenever that is effected, the separation of the colony from the mother country will take place. This Bill will lay the first stone of another independent republic. But the Canadas must be settled, no doubt, just as there must be a settlement in the case of a bankruptcy, when by a long course of injudicious proceedings, a merchant has failed, his affairs must be wound up—but was an assignment ever considered a triumph? Did any man ever think of rejoicing in such a termination? This settlement of the Canadas is no better than an assignment, and to trustees who will very likely apply what they get hold of to their own purposes. But the noble Lord will be able to say, what, no doubt, he has long been anxious to say, “Now the Canadas are done with.” In the present state of things, however, I have no alternative to propose—we are driven up into a corner. There is no option left, and therefore, without entertaining a hope that this measure will long preserve the colony to the mother country, or that it will give the Canadas the form of government which will be best for themselves when they become independent, I feel it my duty not to oppose the second reading of this bill—but I rather submit to a necessity, than support what I approve.

Mr. Goulburn would give no opposition to the second reading of the bill, as he intended to discuss it at the next stage.

Sir R. Inglis said, he should follow the example of his right hon. Friend, and not discuss the measure at the present stage. He believed that no person who had been delegated to govern the province concurred in the propriety of the present measure.

Mr. Ellice said, that as it was understood the discussion should be taken on going into committee, he should abstain

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from troubling the House at any length on the present occasion. He had had considerable doubts himself on the subject of the union of the two provinces, and they had only been removed by the general expression of the opinion of the inhabitants of both provinces in favour of the measure. In justice to his right hon. Friend, now Governor of Canada, he must bear witness to the able and conciliatory manner in which he had executed his duties, and by which he had reconciled all classes of persons in that country to the principle of the measure now before the House. It was also a great satisfaction to him to see the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) in the office he now filled, because that circumstance gave him a confidence that they were now approaching, after many years, the best settlement of which this question was susceptible. He had an objection to one particular part, and only one, of the present bill, which gave to the Governor-general the power of establishing district councils throughout the two provinces. He was ready to admit that the more the administration of local affairs in each locality was encouraged the better, and it was not therefore against the principle of establishing these district councils that he objected.

Nor did he object in principle to the taxation of wild land. But it was the intention of this measure to take very great securities consistently with the concession of what was advantageous to the Canadians. It was intended to take a very large civil list, and to cripple the powers heretofore left to the representatives of the people. It could not, however, be wished to take from them the jurisdiction over the arrangement of their local affairs, which they had objected to vest in the hands of any government. But it would be unsuitable for him then to state his views at any length as he would reserve for the future stages of the discussion the grounds on which he had formed his opinions. In the mean time he would cordially consent to the second reading.

Lord J. Russell said, that the hon. Gentlemen opposite having stated that they would reserve their opinions until the House should go into committee on the bill, he must appeal to what was undeniably the rule and practice of the House, that the discussion of the principle of the bill should be taken on the second reading,

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and that unless such a discussion were raised, the House should be considered as affirming the principle of the bill. He must certainly take it in this light. After the speech which he had made upon introducing this motion, he did not think it necessary at present to enter into the details which had been referred to by hon. Members. The points which had been raised by the hon. Member for Kilkenny were almost all points for the committee. It was proposed by this bill to create a constitution on an extensive scale, resting on a broad basis, with an enlarged system of representation, which could not fail to command the attention of any statesman connected with the management of affairs in England. The object of any measure which he should be disposed to propose would but strengthen and render permanent the connexion between this country and Canada.

He could listen to no proposition having for its object to lead to a separation between the two countries, believing it to be for the best interests of both that the connexion should subsist. He considered our colonies to form an inherent part of the strength of this empire, and, deeply impressed with that conviction, he said without hesitation, that they could not continue to govern Canada without going back to the principles of representative government. But they could hardly again constitute an assembly consisting almost wholly of French Canadians, without incurring the greatest risk; and the representative union of the two provinces appeared to him therefore, to be the most judicious mode of solving the difficulty.

Sir R. Peel had observed the progress of no other question with greater anxiety than this. He held that it would be quite inconsistent with the honour of this country to abandon this colony. Considering the influence of example with regard to our Indian and other colonial possessions, he was of opinion that to abandon this colony might be productive of the most: serious results. Not merely the honour, but the permanent interests of this country, required us to maintain the connexion. But in maintaining that connexion it was out of the question that they could run counter to the wishes of the inhabitants. If they were to be involved in war at the immense distance of 3,000 miles, with the most powerful interests to contend against, without sympathy on the

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part of the great mass of the inhabitants, the weak portion of the British empire would be the Canadas. The cost would far exceed the advantage of maintaining them. If they were to continue this connexion, they might be compelled to enter upon a war on a point of honour, and, unless supported by the goodwill of at least the British residents, the most difficult contest, perhaps, in which this country could become engaged would be the war in North America. The British inhabitants both of Upper and Lower Canada were decidedly in favour of the continued connexion. They had afforded a noble example not only of the valour, but of the feeling of pride which they entertained for their British extraction. It was assuredly, therefore, the bounden duty of this country to maintain the connexion.

Every pretext for delay, with a view to making further inquiry, was now removed, and the time had arrived when something must be done. Three plans had been proposed for the future government of these colonies. The first was the union of the two provinces. The second was the maintenance of Lower Canada for a series of years, as it existed at present, with a governor, a legislative council, and no representative assembly—in short, the maintenance of arbitrary government in one province, and the concession of liberal institutions to the other. The third form was a division of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada into three parts, each to have its Legislative Council and popular Parliament. Nothing could be easier than to state very formidable objections to any suggestion which might be offered upon this subject, for he could conceive no more embarrassing question. It was quite certain, however, that they could not presume on the goodwill of a large majority of the population of Lower Canada. The abettors of this third plan advised that the island of Montreal, in conjunction with another district, should be detached from Lower and attached to Upper Canada. This part of the proposition did not seem unreasonable, because it was right that Upper Canada should have an outlet for the export of its produce. The new district, of which Montreal was to form a part, was also to contain a portion of the present province of Upper Canada. But such an arrangement as this would have the effect of materially prejudicing the

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state of the English inhabitants of the province of Lower Canada, who would thus be left in a still smaller minority. Even such of the residents of the island of Montreal as were of British extraction had in numerous cases protested strongly against their separation from Lower Canada. He had been desirous that the present division of the provinces should continue to subsist, that each should have its representative assembly, but that the government of our entire North American colonies might be under one supreme control;—in short, that there should be local legislation for the local wants of each, but that a governing body should be deputed from both provinces for superintending the general interests of the whole. This was a proposition which might be hereafter taken into consideration.

He thought the maintenance of a despotic form of government in Lower Canada to be deprecated; still against the proposed union very formidable objections might be raised. With such an opposition of forces in the new Legislature, it might be very difficult to conduct the public business. There were to be thirty-nine members for the province of Lower Canada, and thirty-nine for that of Upper Canada. This portion of the project might, he feared, lead to great difficulty. He thought that the independence of the judicial authorities, and the placing of the civil list apart from popular control, which would be secured by the proposed measure, would be of the greatest possible utility. But a new source of evil might arise in the fostering of religious animosities. Considering the differences which already pervaded the mother country upon this subject, it must be deeply deplored that any measure should be adopted by which religious feuds were calculated to be promoted in this colony. Religious differences were not known there at present; and the Roman Catholic population had, during the late disturbances, shown themselves well affected towards the mother country; and, in Lower Canada, they were opposed by the inhabitants, not because they were Catholic, but French. But no permanent settlement of this question could be expected, unless it were made in conformity with the sentiments and wishes of the majority of the English inhabitants of Canada. When, therefore, he found that the assent of all the constituted authorities of that colony was

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given to this measure—when he found that the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, a body not selected for that purpose, but for a wholly different purpose—a body as fairly selected as could be selected to represent the wishes of the whole French Canadian population of Lower Canada, gave their assent to the measure—when he found that in the Upper Province the great majority of the House of Assembly were favourable to the measure, and that the Legislative Council of the Upper Province was also favourable, by a great majority, to the measure—when he referred to the addresses of the constituted authorities expressing, in distinct terms, their approbation of the union—when he found in those addresses such expressions as those of the 3rd resolution of the representative body in Lower Canada, which stated that the reunion of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada was become indispensable for the maintenance of good government and the preservation of their interests in connexion with the parent state—when he saw the constituted authorities of a country situate at the distance of 3,000 miles from England concurring in this measure, he felt that for him, with his necessarily limited knowledge of the wants and interests of those provinces, to speculate on the probable effects of such a measure would be unwarrantable, and he could not, therefore, feel that he could with propriety object to a measure which they both considered to be essential to the maintenance of British connexion, and to the advancement of their own individual interests. Whatever, therefore, might have been his own individual opinion, he felt that it was impossible for him to refuse his assent to the principle of this measure; he could not undertake so onerous a responsibility. With respect, however, to the terms of the union he reserved his opinion; for he was not now aware what might be offered in the committee to remove the objections which he entertained to some of the details of the proposed plan. He assented, therefore, and fully agreed to the constitution of the future government of Canada on the principle of this bill; the consideration of the details belonged to a future stage. While on the subject, he must say one word on a question closely connected with this—he meant the question of the Clergy Reserves Bill. He hoped that the noble Lord would consider well the proposition

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which he appeared inclined to make of passing an act—namely, for the purpose of enabling the Crown to give the Royal Assent to the bill. If the measure of the Canadian Legislature were invalid, it was deserving of deep consideration whether they ought to think of setting it up in that manner. It would be infinitely better, as appeared to him, to legislate for; the clergy reserves by a separate bill, rather than to pass an act to enable the Crown to assent to this bill. He thought that the noble Lord would find upon consideration that the greatest objections existed in point of principle to that course. If it were invalid, to pass an act to make it valid would, in his opinion, be open to the gravest objections. He made these remarks in no party spirit, for he hoped that this Session would not be allowed to pass without some mode being adopted of settling this most important question in a satisfactory manner, as well as the long agitated question of the clergy reserves, and he thought that it was infinitely better for him to state the opinion which he had expressed before the House was pledged to any particular course on the Canadian bill, rather than to wait until the noble Lord declared what course he intended to take, and then to state his opinion on the subject. Again, he must assure the House, that it was with no wish to throw impediments in the way of legislating on the question that he had spoken, for he earnestly prayed that the deliberations of Parliament might be successful in making the Canadas a source of strength to this country.

Lord J. Russell said, that with respect to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, in regard to the Clergy Reserves Bill, he had to state, that on the question of law the inquiry he had made of the law officers of the Crown had reference to a clause or part of a clause of the bill, and therefore was not so general as that which had been proposed in the other House to the judges. He did not intend to move for any bill on the subject until after the recess, when full time would have been afforded for consulting the best authorities on the subject as to the question whether they should proceed with the present bill, or take some new steps for the settlement of the question. He was very much obliged to the tight hon. Gentleman for his opinion and suggestions, which always must be of great authority,

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and he was also quite sure, that they were not given in a party spirit, but with a view to serve the best interests of the country. With regard to what might be called the material part of the question, the amount, namely, of money to be received from the rent or sale of the clergy reserves, he should only say, that he hoped no assertion of right, or of the point of honour, on the part of one party or the other, would stand in the way of its satisfactory adjustment. The House might be assured, that he should not propose any measure for their adoption without mature deliberation and consultation with his colleagues, and with those who were the most likely to assist them in coming to a proper conclusion on the subject.

Bill read a second time.

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