UK, House of Lords, “Canada—Earl of Durham—Sir Francis B. Head”, vol 45, cols 435-454 (15 February 1839)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Canada—Earl of Durham—Sir Francis B. Head“, vol 45 (1839), cols 435-454.
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CANADA—EARL OF DURHAM—SIR FRANCIS B. HEAD
The Duke of Wellington moved, pursuant to notice, that an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty would be graciously pleased to direct that there be laid before this House copies of the correspondence that had taken place between the Secretary for the Colonies and Sir F. Head (late Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada); and also the dispatches of Sir J. Colborne respecting the establishment of rectories in Upper Canada.
Viscount Melbourne said, that it would be extremely inconvenient to produce the whole of the dispatches of Sir F. Head. He had no disposition to keep back any part of those which either the noble Duke or Sir F. Head should think necessary to be laid before the House and the public for his justification, or which might be considered to bear upon those
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parts of his conduct which had been animadverted upon in the report of the noble Earl behind him. If the noble Duke would amend his motion by writing the words “copies of, or extracts from,” he would not object to the motion, and they might afterwards settle by communication what was necessary to be produced. As he had stated, he intended to produce anything Sir F. Head might require for his own justification. With regard to the dispatches of Sir John Colborne, respecting the establishment of rectories, they were very voluminous, but he had no possible objection to their production.
The Duke of Wellington had two objects in making this motion. The first was, the hope that the dispatches of Sir F. Head would increase their Lordships’ knowledge of the state of Upper Canada. Besides, he felt it necessary, that when an officer’s conduct was canvassed, their Lordships should have in their hands the means of his justification. Certainly, when he first saw the correspondence between the noble Viscount and Sir F. Head, he should not have thought it right to move for the production of these papers, but having subsequently seen the report of the noble Earl, he conceived that some of the correspondence of Sir F. Head, ought, in justice to that Gentleman, to be made public. He saw, that notwithstanding what had passed between the noble Viscount and Sir F. Head, it was the intention of Sir F. Head to make a publication on this subject. He had no objection whatever to the amendment proposed by the noble Viscount, and to let the words “copies of, or extracts from” be introduced in his motion.
The Earl of Aberdeen apprehended that it was impossible to proceed to the discussion of these affairs without the dispatches which had been moved for, whether they were alluded to or not in the printed report. The observations there made rendered it imperative on Sir F. Head to justify himself; but that was a different question, and he might be safely left to take care of himself; but unless the House were prepared to take the report of the noble Earl opposite as their sole ground of legislation on this subject, it was quite clear that Sir F. Head, having filled the situation of Governor of Upper Canada, and having so successfully carried on the Government there, his opinions on the state of that province and the views of
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policy to be pursued, were sufficiently important to be laid before their Lordships, unless the noble Earl (the late Governor General) was to decide the question. He thought it very inconvenient that the observations of the noble Earl should have been laid upon the Table of their Lordships’ House. Of course the noble Earl had only done what he thought to be his duty, in making these observations. The noble Earl was the best judge of what he considered to be his duty; but it was for her Majesty’s Government to consider whether any and what part of that report should be published. It was an inconceivable and unprecedented thing to make a printed report, thereby depriving the Ministers of the means of exercising their own judgment, and preventing them from performing the duty which they owed to their Sovereign, of dealing with the report as it was their duty to do before presenting it to that House. The noble Earl also appeared to think it a matter of course that the report should be produced, for he asked, even before her Majesty’s speech was read, so impatient was be, when the report would be produced. He denied, that as a matter of course any word of that report need necessarily be produced; at least the Government ought to have had an opportunity of exercising their judgment as to whether it would be for the public service that it should be produced.
He was not certain of the discretion of the noble Earl upon every subject that might come before him, and therefore thought it a most unfortunate precedent, that Government should have consented to receive his printed report. The noble Earl was much mistaken if he supposed, that the report was his own property. The noble Earl had no right to print a single syllable of his report without her Majesty’s permission, and it belonged to the Crown, and to the Ministers of the Crown, acting on their own responsibility and judgment, and as they thought best for the public service, to produce such, and no more, of this report as they thought necessary.
The Earl of Durham agreed entirely in the doctrine laid down by the noble Earl, and certainly it never was his intention, in any capacity which he ever filled, to consider any dispatches or opinions addressed by him to the Government employing him in their service as his own property. But how stood the facts with regard to the
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particular report in question? That report had been delivered to and received by her Majesty’s Ministers; and up to a certain time he understood, that it was to be produced on the first day of the Session, on the opening of Parliament. So much did he expect, that it would then be produced, that he had in his hand on that occasion a printed copy of the report, and there were thousands, at least, many hundreds, of copies prepared for circulation. It appeared however, in consequence of some deliberation on the part of Government, that the production of the report was postponed. Of such intention he was ignorant, and upon that account, he put a question to the noble Viscount below him, as to when it was likely the report would be presented to that House. He certainly thought he had some right to consider, when he had received from her Majesty’s Secretary of State the announcement that the report had been laid before her Majesty, and that her Majesty had expressed her approbation of that report—he thought he had some right to consider that the report had arrived at such a stage—her Majesty’s Ministers having received it, and having laid it before her Majesty, and having communicated to him her Majesty’s approbation of the report—he thought he had a right to consider it an official report, presented duly and formally, and that his duty had been done.
The letter of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, he had received on Tuesday night, and it was not till Friday that he had made any complaint of the publication of the report, having between Tuesday and Friday, as he had stated candidly, considering that he might properly do so, confided half-a-dozen copies of the report to his immediate friends. He would say no more, as far as his own conduct was concerned, but he hoped the House would permit him to say a few words with regard to the motion before them. He believed that no noble Lord who had taken the trouble to read his report would say, that there was in it any intention of making any charge against Sir F. Head. He had stated certain facts with reference to proceedings that had taken place at the elections of Upper Canada during the time Sir F. Head was in that province. Their Lordships must observe, that the justification of Sir F. Head refers, not to any statements in the report itself, but to certain marginal annotations,
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and a Gentleman so habituated to publications as Sir F. Head ought to be aware that these marginal annotations could hardly be considered the ground-work of justification or charge, and that he must look to the body of the report. On the contrary, the observations of Sir F. Head had reference merely to certain marginal notes, which were, in fact, an index to the contents of the report. He disclaimed all notion of assailing the character of Sir F. Head. He had merely stated facts, partly obtained from dispatches and partly from evidence that had been submitted to him. He had stated these facts as he thought himself bound to state them, for they were in general circulation in the whole colony. He would take that opportunity of remarking upon the observations that had been made as to the danger that might arise from the publication of the report. He did not know how any danger could arise from the publication. He did not know how any danger could arise in this country, and still less could he imagine any danger to arise in Canada from the publication of truths that were known to every man in the colony.
Those were facts of which their Lordships were ignorant, but of which no individual in the colony was ignorant. He had heard them from every human being with whom he had conversed; they were printed in the newspapers of the colony, and in the thousands of newspapers of the United States; they were subjects of conversation with the highest and most eminent persons, and their Lordships should bear it in mind the only danger was in suppressing these facts here. The people of the colonies were aware of them, and was it not their duty to afford to the people of this country the means of attaining to a knowledge of the existence of these facts? He apprehended, that the real danger was in keeping the people of this country in ignorance of that which was notorious to every man, woman, and child in the colonies. No danger could result from the publication of the truth. He had but one object in the preparation of that report, and that was, that their Lordships should know the truth before they were called upon to take into consideration the Government and condition of the colony together with the jeopardy in which the connection between the colonies and the mother country was placed. His object was to perpetuate that connection, and he
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conceived, that he could not, in his humble capacity, ever render a greater service than to be the means of laying before their Lordships a statement which, if it did nothing more, would compel them to devote their earnest attention to the subject. Before he sat down, let him beg—whatever might be the impression of his own conduct, whatever indiscretion he might have been guilty of, as the noble Earl had been pleased to insinuate—let him implore their Lordships not to suffer any time to elapse before they took this subject into their most earnest consideration; and this, not merely with reference to the rebellion that had taken place, but to the interests of their fellow-subjects, their properties, everything that made existence dear to them, and which he considered was perilled by the state of things that existed.
He had received a copy of a letter from a gentleman totally independent of the Government, of large property, late the representative of his county; colonel of the county militia, and a member of Sir John Colborne’s special council, dated Montreal, Jan. 10, 1339, of which the following is an extract:— The Loyalists have again saved the country; but I need not say to one of your thought that it is almost at our total ruin; for we are all soldiers. Consequently, we shall soon want bread, for want of labourers in our fields. If the British Government intends to retain the North American colonies, something must be done, and that right soon, or the country will be worth nothing to the present generation. As for our being retained by a standing army, it is all nonsense; it cannot be done for any length of time. Therefore, I repeat, something must be soon done; and it appears to me the only thing that can be done, with the least prospect of success, is to get us back into a constitution of some kind as soon as possible; but it must be English. We are daily told, that this and that nobleman is to replace Lord Durham: all this can be of no use—the thing must be settled in England. Frame a constitution in the Imperial Parliament; let it be what it may; and send that and a man of ability to put it practically into operation, and rebellion dies a natural death. He merely read this as the statement of an individual very high in rank and station. He hoped and trusted, that whatever might be their Lordships’ opinion with regard to his own conduct, and the mode in which he had acquitted himself, they would at once take up this great and important question, admitting every justification that was necessary for the character
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of Sir F. Head, the production of which he would not object to, but would second if necessary; calling for every bill that had been introduced on the subject, and when they had all the evidence before them, let no time elapse before they took up this question and settled it, as it was morally impossible that the people of Canada could ever settle it themselves.
The Earl of Wicklow said, it appeared to him that the noble Earl had made a very extraordinary statement, namely, that because he got a letter from the Secretary of State announcing her Majesty’s approbation of the report, that, therefore, it was necessary that it should be laid on the table of the House.
The Earl of Durham said, the noble Earl was mistaken. He had merely applied to know when the papers would be produced on the table of the House.
The Earl of Wicklow—At all events the noble Earl considered, without information derived in that House, that he had information sufficient to justify him in appealing to the Government to lay a certain document on the table—a document which had gained circulation in the country before it was laid on the table of the House. It appeared, from all that had fallen from the noble Earl, that although the situation of the colonies was well understood there, we were in ignorance on the subject; and as the noble Viscount had told them, that before Easter a Bill on this subject would be laid before Parliament, it appeared to him that more information than they at present possessed, ought to be furnished by the Government.
Was there no report of the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Gosford), who had preceded the noble Earl in the government of the colonies? Was there no recommendation from the noble Lord with regard to the future government of those provinces? If there were, it appeared to him that such reports, or at least parts of them, ought to be furnished by the Government to Parliament. The report of the noble Earl was the only information at present before the House, and that had been written during the course of a short residence of five months. His noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Gosford) had been in the government of those colonies for a considerable period, and Lord Aylmer for a very long time. He confessed, that he thought it very desirable that Parliament should know what were the opinions
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of those two individuals; and if there were any suggestions in their reports, he thought they should be laid before Parliament.
Viscount Melbourne as not aware of any of the circumstances alluded to by the noble Earl behind him (Lord Durham); but the noble Earl had made a most extraordinary mistake, if he supposed that any such decision had ever taken place. It was left for consideration, whether the noble Earl’s report should be produced or not; and it was very unfortunate, that the noble Earl should have been induced to take the step which appeared to be the cause of the publication of the report, namely, communicating it to his friends; thus rendering it necessary that the report should be laid before the House in extenso, and without consideration of any consequences. The noble Earl seemed to think, that the letter which he received from the Colonial-office, was a sort of licence, instead of looking at it as a notification of the reception of his report, and of the attention which his noble Friend (Lord Glenelg) paid to it. He did not see, that it carried any further meaning with it that a reference to communications which it would probably be necessary to hold with the noble Earl upon the reasonings of the report and the measures recommended in it.
The noble Earl said, that the publication was not in the slightest degree dangerous, and that it had been attended to with no bad effects. The present question was not whether it had or not: the question was, whether Government ought not to have had it in their power to exercise their discretion and opinion as to whether they would produce the report or not. Undoubtedly they had been cut off from the exercise of that discretion, and it was possible, that evil effect might result from it. The noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow), stated, that more information was rendered necessary. Unquestionably, the House ought to be put in possession of all the information that could be obtained. The report made during the administration of his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Gosford) had been already laid before the House; but if there were any other papers previously collected that might be material, of course they should be furnished to their Lordships.
Lord Glenelg entirely agreed with the statement, that until ministers had an opportunity of considering and deciding
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whether any and what portion of a report should be laid before Parliament, that report was within the exclusive power of the government. Certainly he was under the impression that a report must be subject to the deliberate consideration of the Government before it was laid on the Table of the House, and the Government till that consideration was completed ought to be limited by no previous condition. Allusion had been made to the printing of reports. He begged to state, that the printing of reports, for the purpose of their being communicated to the Members of the Cabinet, was not new. He had known many instances in which papers of great importance had been printed, for the express purpose of consideration and selection, and he could at that moment mention many instances in which parts had been left out and other parts substituted which were not in the original, and yet not a word of the original copy transpired.
Papers of a confidential nature were often sent to be printed, in order that Government might with more facility take them into consideration. With respect to the thousand copies mentioned by the noble Earl, he certainly could say, that there had been no direction of that kind given by the Colonial-office. The papers had been given in the usual manner to be printed confidentially, and precisely under the same rules and regulations as other papers. If other directions were given, it was not by him. With respect to the motion before the House, the publication of that part of the noble Earl’s report, which referred to Sir F. Head, made it perhaps necessary to produce at least some portion of the despatches of Sir F. Head.
He had objected to the production of those despatches, not because he thought the Government in any degree affected by them, and, certainly as an individual, he had no possible objection to them; but he objected to their production for this reason, because they involved animadversions upon individuals in the province—animadversions which, from the nature of the circumstances, could not be communicated to the individuals themselves, but which it was right for the governor to communicate to Government at home, though not to the individuals, the result of which, if produced, would be, that these individuals would for the first time see in the parliamentary papers the strongest animadversions on
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themselves and their relatives; and they would see these given to the world without any opportunity being afforded to them of answering the charges brought against them, He regretted as a very great misfortune that the circumstances in which Sir F. Head was now placed required that some portion of the despatches should be produced; but although he deeply regretted it, and although he thought there was sufficient reason for Government not producing these papers spontaneously, still, when the necessity had arisen, they were obliged to submit to the evil; and, no doubt as far as it could he done, the wish of the House would be complied with.
Lord Brougham said, that although there could be no doubt, that it was a dangerous thing to print a number of copies of the Report in question, yet it could not be said to be unprecedented. What his noble Friend stated was perfectly true. He had known many instances of printing reports before they were submitted to the House, the parties printing them being sworn to secrecy, and acting under the constant, immediate, near, and clear inspection of the Secretary of State, and the Under-Secretary, and the confidential clerks of the department. Not only was it not unprecedented, but he recollected when papers so directed to be printed met the public eye through some gross breach of trust committed in some quarter.
That had been the occasion of very particular inquiry into the offence which was committed with regard to an Irish Bill of peculiar delicacy. It had been printed for the convenience of perusal, and two or three copies had been sent to the Crown-office in Ireland. To their great surprise, that most important measure appeared in a Dublin newspaper. A most rigorous inquiry took place for the purpose of the detection and punishment of the persons who were guilty of that gross breach of confidence, as gross and flagrant a breach of confidence and duty as the present case could be. They could not discover up to the present day how that offence had been committed, although many and he himself had his suspicions, but those suspicions did not in any degree rest upon the Government-office.
The Earl of Durham had distinctly stated, that in consequence of some communications that took place between
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the noble Lord (Lord Glenelg) and himself, communications had also taken place between the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir George Grey) and himself; but, unquestionably, with the noble Lord he had had no communication, except in writing. His own secretary had bad communications with the Under Secretary of the Colonies, and entered into an arrangement with him fur the purpose of saving trouble and expense in making a variety of written copies of so long a document. He thought it rather hard to say, that the Colonial-office had had no acquaintance with this arrangement when it was the result of these communications. Some mistake appeared to exist with reference to the letter of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, and he trusted, that no objection would be made if he moved for the production of it. He would accordingly move for a copy of the letter of the noble Lord, dated February the 5th.
Viscount Melbourne said, he had no objection to its production.
Lord Glenelg said, that the communications on the part of his hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of the Colonies, took place in consequence of his (Lord Glenelg’s) authority, and he had acquiesced, for the sake of facilitating its consideration, in having the report of the noble Earl printed by Mr. Hansard, under the direction of his hon. Friend, as many other papers of the same kind had been printed; but he begged to add, that he had his hon. Friend’s (Sir George Grey’s) authority, to state distinctly, that he never gave any order for printing so many copies.
The Earl of Durham said, that the Under-Secretary of the Colonies did communicate several times upon the necessity of having the report printed on the first day of the Session. In consequence of those communications, arrangements were made for printing the report, and he certainly understood that it was necessary that the utmost dispatch should be used, in order that 2,000 copies might be ready on the opening of Parliament.
Motion agreed to.