UK, House of Commons, “Legislative Council (Canada) Bill”, vol 135, cols 1319-1341 (4 August 1854)
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Legislative Council (Canada) Bill“, vol 135 (1854), cols 1319-1341.
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LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL (CANADA) BILL
Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. Frederick Peel, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that its object was to enable the Legislature of Canada—if it desired to do so—to alter the constitution of one of its branches—namely, the Legislative Council, and for that purpose to repeal or alter the section of the Imperial Act for the Union of Canada, passed in 1840, which had reference to the manner in which the Legislative Council should be appointed.
The Bill had been introduced into the other House of Parliament by the noble Duke lately at the head of the Colonial Office (the Duke of Newcastle), and this was the reason that the measure had not reached that House at an earlier period of the Session. It was, however, some time since the attention of Her Majesty’s Government was called to the subject of this Bill. About the middle of last year the Government received two addresses from the Canadian Legislature—one from the Assembly, and the other from the Legislative Council. The address of the Assembly requested that the power which it was proposed to give them by this Bill might be conferred upon the Legislature, while the address of the Council remonstrated against such concession. The address of the Assembly pointed out the importance of introducing the elective principle into the constitution of the Upper House, and suggested a plan by which the Council might be rendered elective.
The Assembly of Canada, at the time the address was passed, consisted of eighty-four members, but the number had since been raised to 130; these members were divided between two parts of the province which used to be called Upper and Lower Canada; the constituencies which returned them embraced a very large portion of the whole adult male population, and be believed that no popular assembly could more fairly represent public opinion. The address was adopted by the Assembly at the invitation of a member of the executive Government,
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and the following was the most important passage which it contained— We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of Canada, in Provincial Parliament assembled, humbly beg leave to represent to your Majesty that, under the circumstances in which the province of Canada is placed in a social, political, and economical point of view, we are humbly of opinion that the introduction of the elective principle into the constitution of the Legislative Council would not only impart greater weight to that important branch of the Legislature than it can have under existing arrangements, however judiciously the selection of its members may be made, but would also ensure greater efficiency in carrying out that system of government which obtains in the mother country, and has been happily introduced into this province.
That paragraph was not adopted without a division, but it was carried by a majority of fifty-one to fourteen, showing that four-fifths of the Assembly were in favour of this change. Looking over the minutes of the proceedings, he thought he might say he doubted whether there was a single member of the Assembly who really objected to the enactment of such a measure as that now before the House. The address of the Legislative Council was, as he had intimated, of an opposite character, and remonstrated against the concession of the power which would be conferred by the Bill. He fully allowed that all proper weight was due to the representations of the intelligent and experienced men who had seats in the Council, but their opposition was only natural, inasmuch as under the scheme which was proposed by the Assembly in their address, these gentlemen would be deprived at intervals of a greater or less number of years, of the seats which they now held for life.
It appeared to Her Majesty’s Government that the application of the Assembly was a most important one, and that they were bound not to act with precipitation, but to consider the subject carefully and deliberately. Now, the importance of this Bill did not in any way arise from its involving any innovations in colonial administration. The principle of the Bill was one which, on several occasions in the course of the last few years, the Home Government had recognised and acted upon in relation to the government of our Colonies. The importance of the present Bill arose from the application of this principle to that colony, which was the first in importance among all the great colonies of this country. The effect of this example would most assuredly be felt, not only in the adjoining provinces of British North
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America, which possessed constitutions similar to that of Canada, but, in all probability, in the Colonies of Australia, where, at this moment, the question of the constitution of the upper of the two Legislative bodies, which it was proposed should share between them the functions of legislation, in place of the existing Legislative Councils, was a subject of public deliberation and debate. The fact that the petition of the Legislative Council of New South Wales expressly desired a constitution corresponding not to the British constitution, which was supposed to be the model of all our colonial constitutions, but to that of the province of Canada, showed, he thought, the importance of any measure of this kind.
The address of the Canadian Assembly, to which he had before referred, reached Her Majesty’s Government at so late a period of the year, that they did not feel justified in introducing any measure on the subject during the last Session. They determined, therefore, to consider the question during the recess, and to avail themselves of the visit paid to this country by the Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Elgin, to consult with him personally as to the course he would recommend. He thought the House would agree with him that no person could be better qualified than Lord Elgin, by his political experience, his intimate acquaintance with the affairs of Canada, his experience during the period of six or seven years for which he had presided over the Government of the Colony, and, above all, by his entire freedom from any party conflicts in the Colony, to afford valuable information on this subject to Her Majesty’s Ministers.
One of the most prominent features of Lord Elgin’s administration had been, that since the introduction into Canada of responsible government he had abstained from identifying himself personally with any party in the province, and he had cordially co-operated with any Government, no matter who its members might be, possessing the confidence of the Assembly, in promoting the welfare of the Colony. The Government accordingly consulted with Lord Elgin, whose opinion entirely confirmed the statement that noble Lord made when be sent to Her Majesty’s Government the address of the Canadian Assembly— I feel it my duty, in transmitting this address, to state that I know of no expedient which is so likely to impart to the Legislative Council the influence which it is most desirable that it should
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possess as the substitution of the principle of election for that of nomination by the Crown in the appointment of its members. The present measure, then, came before the House as the expression of the public opinion of the people of Canada, supported by the approval of the Governor General, and with the sanction of the other House of Parliament. The object of the Bill was to enable the Legislature of Canada to alter the fundamental basis of the Legislative Council.
The Bill did not propose to make the Legislative Council an elective body, but merely provided that it should be competent to the Canadian Legislature, either to retain the Legislative Council as it now existed, or to alter its constitution as they might think fit. It might be asked, perhaps, why the Crown, in the exercise of its prerogative, could not confer the power sought to be given by this Bill, without the intervention of Parliament? When the Crown granted constitutions to conquered colonies it might, he believed, impose restrictions upon the powers of the popular assemblies which it created, but it had not been usual of late years to impose such restrictions; and when representative institutions were granted to the Cape of Good Hope especial care was taken that full and unlimited control over their own constitution should be given by Order in Council to the popular bodies then created. The constitution of Canada was, however, a Parliamentary constitution, and therefore it was necessary to apply to that House to sanction the powers which this Bill would give to the Legislature of Canada. If the Crown conferred representative institutions on a colony, the popular assemblies had in every instance, as a matter of course, full control over the institutions thus given.
Thus the colony of New Brunswick had its constitution from the Crown, and it might at any moment make its Legislative Council elective if it pleased, subject to the exercise of the negative of the Crown on the acts of its Legislature. He mentioned New Brunswick because on a former occasion Earl Grey, when Colonial Secretary, stated to the Lieutenant Governor of that province that the Government of which he was a Member had no objection to the introduction of the elective principle into the Legislative Council of the Colony. But the explanation of the necessity existing in the present case for coming to Parliament was, that the constitution of Canada was a Parliamentary constitution, and had been so
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from its origin, having been established and regulated by the Acts of 1774, 1791, and 1840—the first conferring legislative powers on the Governor and a Council nominated by himself; the second dividing Canada into two parts, and creating a different constitution in each, one a Council named by the Governor, the other an Assembly chosen by the people; the third reuniting Canada, and amalgamating the two Legislatures into a Council nominated by the Crown, and a popularly elected Assembly. It was not competent for the Colonial Legislature to exercise any powers except those expressly given by those Acts, and that of 1840 did not confer power to alter in any manner those of its provisions which had reference to the Legislative Council. It might be asked whether there was any instance of Parliament granting a constitution to a colony, and, at the same time, conferring upon the Colonial Legislature which it created power to alter or to destroy the arrangement proposed by the Imperial Parliament. He begged to remind the House of a recent instance in which this course had been pursued. The Act which conferred constitutions upon the Australian Colonies granted to them full power to alter the constitutions provided by that Act, and to adopt, if they thought fit, the elective principle. When the Act of 1840 was passed for the union of the two Canadian provinces a strong reason existed for withholding the powers which would be conferred by this Bill. At that period great disunion and political confusion prevailed in Canada.
A contest had long been prevailing between the French Canadians and the British mercantile party, and these contentions resulted in the rebellion of 1837. In 1838 the Imperial Parliament deprived Lower Canada of the free institutions which that Colony had enjoyed since 1791, and when, in 1840, Parliament was again called upon to legislate for Canada, it was felt necessary to proceed very cautiously with regard to the restoration of free institutions, in consequence of the distrust which existed in the loyalty of a portion of the population. There was, however, no reason at the present time for entertaining the slightest distrust of the Canadian population, and the loyalty of the French Canadians was undoubted. He conceived, therefore, that, as every colony of this country, with the exception of Canada, possessed those powers of dealing with its own legislative institutions which would be conferred by this Bill,
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Parliament could not now hesitate to grant such powers to the Canadian Legislature. In framing this measure the Government had not adopted the recommendations offered by the Canadian Assembly as to the details of the measure. No doubt it was wished that the scheme proposed in the address should have been taken as its basis, and a draft embodying its provisions had been subsequently forwarded by the Canadian Government, but it was judged better to leave the whole question to the Legislature of Canada, and to restrict the scope of the Bill to granting them the power of making the Council elective if they chose to exercise it. It was not improbable that the practical result of the measure would be to make the Council elective, and many persons were apprehensive, that the authority of the Crown in Canada might be endangered if both branches of the Legislature became elective. He did not in any degree share those apprehensions; on the contrary, he thought it probable that if the Council were made elective, it might become a more conservative body than it ever was.
On referring to the history of the Canadian Legislature, it would be found that the Crown had not, in reality, derived any authority or influence from having the nomination of the Council, and that it had not thereby succeeded in retarding any measure originating with the Assembly which might be supposed to encroach on the authority of the Crown. The Legislative Council had, in fact, been condemned from its commencement. In 1791, Mr. Fox proposed to make it elective, and though this was resisted by Mr. Pitt, yet a time was anticipated when the change would be required, and actually accomplished.
In 1828 a Committee of the House of Commons, appointed, on the Motion of Mr. Huskisson, to consider the state of affairs in Canada, which were then complicated by the conflict that had long subsisted between the French and English parties, recommended that the number of nominee members in the Council should be diminished. There was a want of inherent power in its constitution which made it incapable of opposing any effective resistance to the Assembly, and this could only be given to it by making it elective, or at least letting it be understood that its constitution was completely under the control of the colonists themselves. But it was not to be anticipated that the Council should ever become the rival of the
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Assembly, which would retain in its hands the power of the purse. He would now advert to some circumstances which were said to form a reason why the Bill should not be adopted.
The Government of Mr. Hicks, which had held office in Canada since 1848, had recently been defeated in the Assembly, and had advised Lord Elgin to dissolve the Assembly and call a new Parliament. During the last Session two measures had been passed, one raising the numbers of the Assembly from eighty-four to 130, the other giving votes to persons possessed of a very small amount of property. The Canadian Government had not thought it desirable to avail themselves of the power given by the Imperial Act passed last year for settling the question of the clergy reserves until the measure increasing the constituency should be passed; but the Assembly had come to a resolution in favour of dealing with the question immediately. He did not think these circumstances formed any ground why they should not pass the present Bill. It made no difference, as far as this question was concerned, what might be the number of the members of the Assembly, or of the voters who elected it.
Differences of opinion might prevail under any circumstances, but the great advantage of the present Bill would be, that, instead of there being a contest between a party in Canada and the Home Government, to withhold a power which the colonists ought to possess, the question would become one between political parties in the colony itself, where its details would be settled. It was further proposed by the Bill to repeal those clauses of the Act of Union of 1791, providing that the Colonial Legislature should not have power to alter the property qualification of its members, that the number of members of the Assembly should not be increased unless a majority of two-thirds in each House concurred in favour of doing so, and that certain Colonial Acts should not be confirmed by the Crown until they should have been laid on the tables of the Houses of Parliament for thirty days.
He felt persuaded that the measure, if passed, would give increased steadiness to the course of legislation in the Colony, render the Council a really conservative body, capable of acting as a check or balance to the Assembly, and remove elements of future disturbance from the relations now happily subsisting between the mother country and the British North American Provinces.
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Motion made, and Question proposed, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”
Sir John Pakington said, he should not shrink from the duty of objecting to the second reading of this Bill in spite of the present discouraging state of the House. He objected to the Bill, first, because it was one sanctioning institutions of an extremely democratic character in the important province of Canada, and secondly, on account of the manner in which it had been brought under the consideration of Parliament by Her Majesty’s Government. In the first place the House of Commons was called upon to consider a Bill of this moment for the first time on the 4th of August.
He took exception decidedly to the statement of the Duke of Newcastle in another place, and of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, that this was only a permissive Bill. Had the Canadian Assembly merely requested power to make the Council elective, and had the Bill given only such permission as was given in the case of the Australian Government Bill, it might have been fair to make this statement; but the fact was that the Canadian Government had devised a specific scheme, which in his mind was one of an extreme democratic character. They sent it over for the consideration of the Imperial Government, and then Her Majesty’s Ministers brought into Parliament a Bill to enable the Canadian Legislature to carry out that particular plan.
To bring forward such a measure at such a date as they had now reached, was a course not decorous or respectful either to that House or to the Canadian Legislature. The Bill had been on the table for five weeks. Why had it not been read a second time before? Why had Government waited so long? It was brought down to that House on Friday, the 30th of June, and this was now Friday, the 4th of August. He had really thought that the Government had considered it wiser, considering what had since taken place in the Colony, to drop the Bill altogether; but very greatly to his surprise, it had again been placed upon the Orders of the Day, after having long disappeared from them. He would put it to the noble Lord the President of the Council whether the Government were acting respectfully either to the House or the Canadian Colonies. Look at the state of the House.
[There were at that time some twenty Members on the Government, and about ten on the Opposition
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Sir John Pakington—Was that a House in which to introduce a Bill of such importance? Since the Bill came down from the House of Lords, the Legislative Assembly of Canada had been dissolved, because they evinced a determination to deal at once with the great question of the clergy reserves, after themselves virtually admitting that they were not a fair representation of the Canadian people by passing the Act to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, for the extension of the representation. Amongst the papers lately laid on the table he found a despatch from Lord Elgin, expressing an opinion that the attempt to settle such a question in a Parliament which had been already declared by its own vote to be an imperfect representation of the people, was a course of proceeding obviously open to serious objection.
He must express strong disapprobation of the course taken by the Duke of Newcastle, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, in reference to this whole subject. The Bill was founded on the address of the Assembly, which, as well as that of the Council, reached this country in the month of July last, and were laid on the table before the end of the Session on the Motion of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright). He recollected no other instance of such addresses having been laid on the table without the covering despatch, and could only explain the withholding it by the fact of no answer having been sent, or of the answer being of such a nature that Ministers did not choose that it should be known to Parliament.
Mr. Frederick Peel—The despatch was not asked for.
Sir John Pakington—That was, of course, the explanation offered by the Government, but he did not think that that was a sufficient answer, or that the omission of the despatch was justified by the custom of Parliament. He could only account for it in two ways—in the first place the despatch had not been answered; and in the second the Government, he suspected, were not very anxious to let Parliament see that despatch. He had a great respect for Lord Elgin, but the despatch in question was marked by a characteristic for which, on more than one occasion, he had had to find fault with the noble Lord. Its substance was this: “I think the measure most objectionable and surrounded with grave difficulties; but you had better pass it.” That was a very convenient course for Lord Elgin, and might relieve him from very great difficulty, but he did not
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think it would be held very satisfactory to the public either in this country or Canada. It must be a matter of great doubt whether such an elective council as the Bill contemplated would work for the benefit of the people, or consistently with the plan of responsible government established in Canada. He (Sir J. Pakington) considered that the Duke of Newcastle had acted very improperly in not having so much as acknowledged the receipt of that despatch for eleven months. The noble Duke said that, as Lord Elgin was coming to England, he wished to see him personally before replying to the despatch.
The noble Duke ought not to have waited for Lord Elgin’s arrival; but when his Lordship did come, the noble Duke did not even then answer it. Lord Elgin was here at the beginning of the year, and yet the despatch was not answered till the 26th of May. He appealed to the House whether the noble Duke bad treated so important a colony with the respect it deserved? And what had been the result of the noble Duke’s conduct? The Assembly—considering, in the words of the old proverb, that silence gave consent—proceeded to draw up the draft of the Bill which they sent over to England for adoption. And even when the noble Duke did answer the despatch, did the House ever see such an answer? It contained four paragraphs. The first two acknowledged the receipt of the two addresses. In the third he stated that the Government intended immediately to introduce a Bill giving the Legislative Council such powers to alter the provisions of the Union Act as would meet the object of the address if the Legislature, on reconsideration, considered it desirable to persevere.
In the fourth paragraph, he stated that they would also deal with the law requiring Bills of a certain character to be laid on the table of the House in the same Bill. And this was the answer which, after ten or eleven months’ gestation, the noble Duke had produced to satisfy the people of Canada! But he should like to know what the noble Duke meant when he said that he proposed to introduce a Bill to effect the object of “the address,” seeing that there were two? After nearly a twelvemonth’s interval, at the end of June the Bill was laid upon the table of the House of Lords by the noble Duke, who appeared to think that, as he had taken so much time himself, the Houses of Parliament ought to have as little as possible. The Bill was opposed
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by a noble Earl in a speech of singular ability, and was supported by the noble Duke in a speech characterised by as signal a want of success. The noble Duke said that he (Sir J. Pakington) had also produced a colonial constitution in which the Upper Chamber was an elective one. This was the second time on which he had been invited by the Government to share their responsibility with them, and the construction he put upon this repeated attempt to fix him with complicity in the acts of the Government was, that they were not quite sure that those acts would bear examination; for if they were satisfied with their measures he was afraid the last thing they would think of would be to invite him to share the credit of them. The noble Duke said—
Sir George Grey rose to order. The right hon. Baronet had alluded to the speech of the Duke of Newcastle on the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, and he held in his hand a newspaper which professed to give a report of the debate.
Sir John Pakington said, he did not hold in his hand a newspaper, and he had never alluded to the House of Lords.
Mr. Speaker said, it was very irregular to allude to debates in the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman might allude to proceedings in the House of Lords, but not to debates there.
Sir John Pakington said, he was always anxious to pay the greatest respect to the decision of the Chair, but in this case he could do no more than render a literal obedience to the ruling of the right hon. Gentleman. He had never named the House of Lords, and he thought it would be an extreme measure to prevent him from doing what he had seen done over and over again. All he would say, therefore, was that the Duke of Newcastle was in error in supposing that he had anything to do with the Cape constitution, that constitution having been drawn by Earl Grey. The only thing which he had to do with that constitution was to write a despatch, in September, 1852, advising that proceedings with respect to it ought to be suspended till the end of the Kafir war.
When that war did close, and when he was preparing to consider what course he would take with regard to that constitution, the Government of which he was a Member left office. But he had been very much concerned in the formation of another constitution, namely, that of
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New Zealand; and on that occasion he had divided the House against a proposal for an elective Upper Chamber, and had been supported by a large majority. He did not mean to say that he would not, under any circumstances, allow of an elected Upper Chamber, for even in the House of Lords the principle of election was recognised. But he did not see any objection to the principle of a nominated Upper Chamber; on the contrary, he thought it might be made a useful check upon the action of the Legislative Assembly. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) said that the subject had been discussed in New South Wales. During that discussion, Mr. Wentworth—a gentleman who had earned for himself great colonial distinction, and who was certainly not of any aristocratic or high conservative principles—made a very remarkable speech. He said that the two Chambers at the Cape were more duplicates of each other; and that the effect of the new constitution would be to hand over the Government of the Colony to the vagabond Hottentot party.
But even the Cape constitution was not nearly so democratic as that proposed for Canada. The Lower Chamber in Canada it was proposed should be elected for six years, one-third going out every two years; whereas the Lower Chamber at the Cape was elected for ten years, one-half going out every five years. Again, the Cape qualification was an unincumbered real property amounting to 2,000l., or personal property amounting to 4,000l.; but in Canada the qualification was to be the simple possession of property to the amount of 1,000l. What was this new Council in Canada to do? It was to be elected by the same constituency as the Lower Chamber. That he objected to. The qualification was only to be that the members were to be possessed of property to the amount of 1,000l.
But there was another and important distinction which he thought highly objectionable, because it struck directly at the independence of the body. It was, that if they exercised their legitimate powers, and refused for two consecutive Sessions to pass the measures which had passed the Lower House, they should be liable to a dissolution. The institutions they were going to sanction were far more democratic even than the institutions of the United States. The most valuable part of the institutions of the United States was the Senate. They were not elected by the same constituency as the Assembly, but by a system of double election,
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and the result was, that they got a most valuable body of legislators of the highest class; and every one acquainted with the institutions of the United States must be aware of the difference of character which attached to the House of Assembly and to the Senate. Recollect that in America they had not what we call responsible government.
The Ministers were independent of the Senate. And recollect the Senate was not liable to dissolution, but they were elected for six years, and during that six years they exercised a veto on the legislation as great as that of the House of Lords. They were not subject, as the proposed Council was in Canada, to be dissolved, if for two years they resisted the more popular assembly. Then there was another change—he meant the facility that was given by this Bill to frequency of changes of institutions in Canada. If Her Majesty’s Ministers thought the Canadians were going to establish for themselves a good and sound system of Government, why should they leave that Government exposed to change at any moment on the mere impulse of popular feeling? This was not the course pursued in the United States, where the constitution very wisely provided against hasty changes in the public institutions.
The former constitution of Canada guarded against such hasty changes, by requiring the consent of a large proportion of the Legislature to any alterations in the constitution; and he wished to know on what ground this principle had been abandoned? He thought it was impossible that such a constitution as was proposed to be established by this Bill would really effect the great object of a second Chamber—namely, that of establishing a check between the executive power on the one hand, and the popular branch of Legislature on the other. How was it possible that an effective check could exist where the two Chambers were elected by the same constituency, and when the Upper Chamber was liable to dissolution if it resisted for two successive Sessions the will of the Lower Chamber. The opinions expressed by the noble President of the Council (Lord J. Russell) in 1840 were directly in opposition to such an arrangement. He (Sir J. Pakington) thought it was impossible that the system of party government—or, as it was called in the Colonies, responsible government—could be carried on with two Chambers, constituted in the manner proposed by this Bill. If they had two bodies, both claiming
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to spring from popular election, the one continuing for four years and the other for six years, they might have one House opposing and the other supporting the Executive Government, who, under such circumstances, would find it extremely difficult and embarrassing to carry on the system of responsible government. He also entertained a very strong feeling that, in thus sanctioning by their legislation democratic institutions of this character for the Colonies, they were not really meeting the wishes of the colonists themselves. He did not believe that the colonial subjects of the British empire had any desire for democratic institutions.
This question had arisen in New South Wales, where the constitution of the Upper Chamber had been fully discussed by men who were most anxious for the maintenance of public liberty. Since 1844 the colonists of New South Wales had repeatedly urged upon the Government their desire to have certain concessions made to them, and those concessions were ultimately made by the late, and confirmed by the present, Government; but it was required, as a condition of these concessions, that the residents of New South Wales should remodel their constitution. A Committee was appointed by the Legislature of New South Wales to consider and report upon the draught of a constitution, and the feeling of the people was in favour of a nominated Upper Chamber.
Sir John Pakington—That was rather an unusually flat contradiction, but he thought the extract he was about to read would bear him out in what he had just stated. The Committee stated— As regards the constitution of the Legislative Council, your Committee consider the House is pledged to a constitution similar in its outline to that of Canada. … But the Committee are of opinion that the offer contained in their declaration and remonstrance necessarily includes a nominated Legislative Council in the first instance; and from this offer, independently of the question whether they are strictly bound by it or not, they see no reason to depart. They desire to have a form of government based on the analogies of the British constitution. M. de Tocqueville had taken precisely the same view with regard to the constitution that was required for Canada. He believed it would be found that a great proportion of the Canadian people would be unwilling to adopt democratic institutions, or to depart one iota beyond what was unavoidable from the constitution of the mother country. He thought the error which had marked the Canadian
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policy of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was, that it had always had a tendency to elevate that portion of the colonial population who were least attached to the British Crown and to British institutions, at the expense of the most loyal portion of the population, and those who were most anxious to preserve the British connection. He had traced this principle in the noble Lord’s policy for many years, and he found it still pursued. He thought the cause of this policy was the mistake which many persons made in confusing democracy with freedom. He would always be prepared to resist and to oppose democracy—he meant, of course, extreme democratic institutions.
At the same time he readily acknowledged that the democratic element was one of the greatest blessings this country had ever enjoyed. He held that no country could be free and prosperous without a large infusion of that element; but he believed that, if the principle was pushed too far, and if extreme democratic institutions were adopted, neither the interests of freedom nor the real happiness and welfare of the people would be promoted. He would not advise the Government to oppose what was proved to be the fixed and decided wish of such a population as that of Canada; but he counselled them not to go out of their way to encourage extreme democratic institutions, and to give to such institutions the sanction of the British Parliament. What the colonists desired, and what Parliament was bound to give them, was full power to manage their own affairs. If the Parliament wished to conciliate the affections of the colonists, and to cement their attachment to the Crown of England, let them respect the rights and freedom of the colonial population.
He believed that if they offered to our colonists the most democratic and republican institutions, the colonists would reply that they were still the subjects of the Queen of England—that intervening seas had not diminished their attachment to the institutions of their fatherland; and that, adopting the noble language of a distinguished colonial statesman, Mr. Wentworth, they would declare that they rejected the unwelcome boon. He would not call upon the House to go to a division; but he wished to place upon record his entire dissent from the course which the Government had taken upon this subject, because, in his opinion, this Bill would give the sanction of the British Government to the establishment of institutions in Canada
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which would tend, surely and certainly, to the separation of that Colony from this country, and which, neither before nor after the period of that separation, could possibly conduce to the welfare, the happiness, or the good government of the Canadian people.
Mr. Adderley said, he conceived this Bill was only extending to Canada the same principle which the mother country had recognised and acted upon with respect to other of her colonial possessions, and therefore he considered it was almost a waste of time to prolong the debate. At the same time he wished to express his extreme dissent from the views which had been expressed on this subject by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington). It appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman opposed this measure because he objected to the Reform Bill, which had been approved by the Canadians, and that he consequently was in favour of the existing state of things in Canada. But he (Mr. Adderley) would appeal from the right hon. Gentleman’s views on that point to those who were smarting from the existing state of things there, and to the wishes of the Canadian people themselves. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, on what grounds this country could possibly interfere to oppose the wishes of the people of Canada as to a reform in their constitution? He conceived the question before the House was not whether the Reform Bill which was proposed by Canada was a good one or not.
Indeed, if there was one fault which the Government had committed in reference to this measure, it was that both in the measure itself, and still more in the debates which had ensued upon it, they had entered into the details of the subject, seeing that they had proceeded on the principle that the Canadians would choose their own constitution. He would submit to the House that the broad question which the House had to consider was, whether this country could insist on a different Reform Bill from that of the Canadians themselves. Could the right hon. Gentleman point to one solitary instance in the history of colonial legislation where a constitution which had been made to order in this country had ever succeeded or taken permanent root in the political institutions of the colony for which it was designed? He (Mr. Adderley) did not believe such an instance was to be found. It would seem that if the right hon. Gentleman was now in power as Colonial Minister,
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his object would be to suppress the wishes of the Canadian people, and to send out to them a constitution similar to that of the mother country.
Sir. J. Pakington said, he must disclaim any such wish, and he could not help complaining that the hon. Gentleman was misrepresenting the arguments he had used.
Mr. Adderley—The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that England had a mission to spread monarchical institutions over all the world. He (Mr. Adderley) believed that during the 200 years in which England had been engaged in colonisation, the result of all its achievements in that way had been to spread as great a variety of political constitutions all over the globe as any nation had done ever since the world began; and the kind of constitution which they had never succeeded in establishing was just that which the right hon. Gentleman was desirous of seeing adopted in Canada.
He (Mr. Adderley) would rather say, let us trust to that spirit which loves its own institutions, which goes out with every band of emigrants that leaves this country for our distant dependencies, and which would ever adapt itself to the local circumstance with which it had to deal, and which were but imperfectly understood in this country. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that it was desirable to imitate the House of Lords in constituting an Upper Chamber for Canada; but he (Mr. Adderley) would tell him that the House of Lords was not so easily imitated. That House sprang from a root the like of which he would not find in the Colonies; there were not materials for the constitution of a Chamber on any such principle in a new colony, where the population was always of an essentially shifting character; and to found anything like an hereditary peerage under such circumstances was absolutely and simply impossible.
He contended that a nominated Chamber was a mere duplication of the Crown, and nothing more. He would say, in conclusion, that he was most anxious that nothing should be done which was likely to endanger the connection subsisting between this country and the Colonies; and he would now give notice that, at the very earliest moment of the next Session, he should venture to bring the question before the House, whether it was wise or politic to be alluding to the separation of the Colonies from this country as a possible contingency,
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and whether it was not practicable to draw our distant dependencies into closer connection with the mother country.
Mr. Hume said, he could not but express his great satisfaction at the present state of affairs in Canada. Five and twenty years ago he proposed the adoption of the very course which was now being pursued towards that Colony, and everything that had occurred since showed that he was right. Every attempt to counteract the progressive principle had failed. Since representative government was extended to her, Canada had doubled in prosperity, and he had no doubt that her career would continue to be progressive. They were now asked to pass a Bill giving Canada power to alter the existing constitution, and he could not conceive anything more likely to lead to a happy result.
The connection between this country and the Colony would last as long as, and no longer than, they made it the interest of the colonists to be associated with them. In the present state of the world they could not expect to keep their dependencies without the tie of interest; but, on the other hand, it was impossible that the colonists could enjoy greater advantages than they possessed in association with England, and with English capital and English protection to assist them. They were now adopting the true mode of making the Colonies of England strong and powerful. He entirely differed from the right hon. Gentleman in his appreciation of the Duke of Newcastle, for, in his opinion, the course pursued by the noble Duke throughout this matter had been in a high degree praiseworthy.
Sir George Grey said, he understood that the right hon. Baronet did not intend to divide the House, and, such being the case, and no Member having supported the right hon. Baronet’s views, it was quite unnecessary for him to trespass for more than a few moments on their attention. The right hon. Baronet insisted, as one objection to the Bill, upon the late period of the Session at which it came before the House; but the measure had only been delayed, in common with other business that had come down from the other House, in order to enable the House of Commons to dispose of measures which had to be transmitted to the House of Lords. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill had come down to them supported by the sanction of a large majority of the House of Lords, whose support of the measure fully confuted the allegation
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of the right hon. Baronet that the Duke of Newcastle had not efficiently prepared and advocated its provisions. As to the details of the Bill which had come over from Canada, he held, with the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley), that the House had nothing whatever to do with them, although, from the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, it might be supposed that the House was absolutely in Committee upon that measure. The real question before the House was, whether, Canada having made the immense progress she had made in wealth, population, and fitness for self-government, there was any valid reason for withholding from her those privileges which were enjoyed by almost every other British colony of altering her own constitution, with the concurrence and consent of the Crown? Canada was now the only important British colony which did not possess this privilege.
Was the House prepared to withhold the concession from Canada? In Australia our colonists knew how to exercise the privileges which Parliament had conferred upon them, and had they any more reason to distrust the Canadian colonists than to distrust the Australians? The right hon. Baronet denounced the contemplated constitution as democratic and republican, but the main point to be considered was the result that would be attained, and not the particular mode by which the Canadians would attain it. The question was, whether by the change proposed the Executive Council would secure that respect and weight and confidence with the people which the nominated Council had failed to secure, or which would enable it to operate more effectually as a real and valid check against inconsiderate popular impulses and hasty legislation? This end obtained, the mode was matter of less moment, and might safely be left to the good sense of the colonists. The feeling of Parliament had long been in this direction, and the effect upon our Australian Colonies and upon our North American Colonies of such principles had been most beneficial. He believed that the change, so far from tending to the separation of our Colonies from the British Crown—a separation which none could more earnestly deprecate than himself—would, on the contrary, tend to cement the attachment of the Colonies to the Crown, and to render the connection between them of far greater interest and value to both. The union of the two provinces and the introduction of a responsible
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Government under the auspices of Lord Elgin, had already operated most beneficially, had lessened the differences between the two races, and united them in a feeling of warm attachment to the British Crown, and he had the fullest confidence that the present measure would largely tend to strengthen and perpetuate the connection between this country and that Colony which Lord Durham had justly denominated one of the brightest ornaments of the Imperial Crown.
Mr. Vernon Smith said, he wished to express his entire concurrence in the provisions of the Bill before the House. Whatever might have been the shortcomings of the noble Lord the President of the Council towards the Liberal party in this country, the noble Lord had always been firm to the Liberal party in the Colonies. In one, and only one, respect he concurred with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington), namely, in the regret which he felt at the late period of the Session at which the Bill had been brought under their consideration; but that was no reason for objecting to it when it did come. The object of the measure was not to establish a new constitution for Canada, but to remove impediments which had hitherto prevented Canada establishing a constitution for herself, and he thought the Canadian people had shown themselves worthy in every respect of being intrusted with the management of their own institutions.
Lord John Russell—At this hour, Sir, I shall not occupy much of the time of the House; but, having introduced the Bill of 1840 for the union of the Canadas, I think it incumbent on me to say that I heartily approve of the present Bill. I think it was advisable to have imposed restrictions at that time; but from the moment the leading men of the Colony were disposed to say that the affairs of the Colony would be better managed by an elective Legislative Council than by a nominee Council, I cannot see what possible interest we can have in preventing them from making the contemplated change. I entirely concur in giving them this power. Whether or not they are wise in asking for it, and whether they will make a wise use of it, are totally different questions.
This, however, we do know, that since the Union Act, which I had the honour to introduce, was passed, Canada has made very great progress, and that there can hardly be found anywhere, even among the young communities of the United
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States, a community in which population and wealth have increased so rapidly, or in which there has been such a great increase of every improvement that accompanies civilisation. With regard to the question of an elective Council, of course the Legislature of Canada will have to consider the difficulties to which they will be exposed. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) is, I think, not mistaken in saying that it is a totally different experiment from that of the United States. There is certainly a danger with an elective Government and an elective popular Assembly, that the two Legislatures may not agree, and in that event the progress of Government must become exceedingly difficult.
The only experiment which I know of the kind has been made in Belgium. It has succeeded hitherto, but once or twice I have watched the progress of Belgium with some anxiety, lest there should be a stop which might seriously injure the prosperity of that country. However, I believe that with regard to this question, as with regard to the clergy reserves, we ought to allow the great province of Canada to consult its own interests. I believe the colonists can judge far better than we can what is for their benefit, and I most readily consent to a Bill by which they will acquire the power.
Mr. Henley said, it was clear, from the noble Lord’s own admission, that he had strong doubts as to the wisdom of the concession which the Canadians had sought. The noble Lord seemed to lay down the principle that what the colonists chose to ask they were entitled to have—a principle which would have operated just as well in 1840; but to his (Mr. Henley’s) mind, the strong reason for giving the privilege to Canada was, that it had been given to all our other leading Colonies. He was quite of the opinion that the House had reason to complain of the late period at which this measure had been introduced.
Mr. Lowe said, he wished to explain that the reason why he had said “No,” when the right hon. Baronet Sir J. Pakington declared that the people of New South Wales were in favour of a nominated Upper Chamber was, that the people had petitioned against such a Chamber from every town and district of that Colony.
Mr. F. Scott said, he also must complain of the late period of the Session at which so important a measure had been introduced to the notice of the House. It had been urged as an excuse for having
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brought the Bill forward at so late a period of the Session as the present, that the Government had to introduce a number of other important measures. But what, he would ask, were those important measures? None had been passed in the present Session which could justify the Government in having recourse to the excuse to which he had just adverted. He objected also in the strongest manner to the opinion which had been expressed by the right hon. Baronet the Colonial Secretary, that the House ought to agree to the Bill, because it had received the assent of the House of Lords. But such a recommendation of a Bill, whatever might be its value at any other time, was of far less force with respect to the present Bill, when it was well known that, had its consideration been delayed but a few days, the intelligence received from Canada would have been of such a nature as most materially to affect the decision at which the House of Lords had arrived on the subject.
The Bill appeared to him to be mainly founded on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly of Canada. But no importance could be attached to the opinion of that Assembly, for the Governor General had thought proper to dissolve the body, because it had proved itself unable, in his opinion, to deal satisfactorily with even minor and far less important matters. The right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith), when speaking of the advantages of this Bill, had said that it would be of the greatest possible utility, as giving a second Chamber to the Colony, which would check the action of the Lower Chamber.
But no great value could be attached to such an argument, inasmuch as this new Chamber was to be formed actually of the ingredients of which the Lower Chamber was constituted. He was surprised that the Ministers of a monarchical Government should suggest to a colony the adoption of a plan which would establish a second Chamber not even possessing the same check which existed in the case of the neighbouring republic—that they should propose, in fact, a measure more democratic than that of a republic. It had been said also that the Colonies should be looked at with a possible view to their ultimate separation from this country. But if that were so, was it not the duty of this country to give them monarchical institutions, and endeavour so to establish those institutions, that when the Colonies were separated, they might
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become distinct monarchies rather than rival republics, for the larger the number of republics which existed in what were now our Colonies, the greater would be the danger to the monarchy at home? He therefore protested in the strongest manner against passing a measure of this kind at the present period of the Session, and without that amount of discussion and careful consideration which its importance required.
Mr. Biggs said, he felt greatly obliged to the Government for having brought forward this Bill; for he believed that a greater piece of practical statesmanship had never yet passed the Legislature of this country. The House might depend upon it that if it did not legislate and keep pace with the growing wants and opinions of the colonies, our valuable Canadian possessions would be alienated from us and thrown into the arms of the United States. He knew of no measures more likely to bring about this result than the stringent forms of Government advocated by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. This Bill was nothing more than a proper concession to the colony of Canada, and, if passed, he believed it would ensure peace and the most beneficial results. He believed that the Bill, if passed, as he was sure it would be by an overwhelming majority, would form a most interesting bond of union between the colony and the mother country, would produce an immense amount of good feeling, and would increase the loyal attachment of the colonists to the Crown.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read 2.
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