UK, House of Lords, “Canada—The Earl of Durham’s Report”, vol 45, cols 206-215 (11 February 1839)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Report on Canada“, vol 45 (1839), cols 206-215.
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CANADA.—THE EARL OF DURHAM’S REPORT
Viscount Melbourne—I now rise, my Lords, for the purpose of laying on the table the papers which I said last week it was my intention to present to you. They contain the information which her Majesty in the Speech from the Throne directed to be laid before this House, and also the report from the noble Lord the Governor-General and her Majesty’s High Commissioner in Canada. It is quite unnecessary for me to say much to enforce upon your Lordships both the importance of these documents and of the matters to which they refer. I wish, however to say one word expressive of the feelings of her Majesty’s Ministers, both with respect to the urgency of this question, and also as to the absolute necessity of introducing, without any further delay,
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some measure which will put an end to the state of things which now exists in Canada. It was of course quite impossible for us to make up our minds upon this difficult subject until we had been put in possession of the various suggestions and views of the noble Earl; but I beg to say, now that we are in possession of that information, and of his opinions, we mean to lose no time in the matter; and I hope and trust that before Easter we shall be able to introduce a measure calculated to establish a firm government there, and to put an end to the present system.
Lord Wharncliffe wished to receive some explanation of the fact, that the papers which were now laid before their Lordships had been for some time in the hands of other persons?
Viscount Melbourne said that it was out of his power to give any explanation on the subject.
Lord Wharncliffe—It certainly is a most unprecedented thing to find a report (which has been formally laid before her Majesty, and which has not been placed on your Lordships’ table) in the possession of the public prints a week after it has been drawn up. When this matter had been referred to the other night, the noble Viscount, and the noble Earl opposite, declared that they had seen that report with the greatest surprise. Now, if it be true that those papers were printed for several days before they were published, it appears extraordinary to me that either of the noble Lords should have been surprised. They ought to he the very last persons in the world who should feel surprised at such a circumstance. Can any body, who knows that papers are printed, be so very short-sighted as not to see that they must find their way into the newspapers. Your Lordships must be aware from the great pains taken by the conductors of the public press to procure information, and the great competition which exists amongst them to forestall one another that any papers which are printed by Parliament, and are of any interest are sure to find their way into the newspapers. It then appears to me, that the surprise expressed by the noble Earl, and the noble Viscount, upon this subject was unaccountable. And now, my Lords, having read this report, I must say, that if ever there was a report, made on any subject, by a person under the direction of the Government, that ought to have been
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kept from the public until it had been first submitted to those for whose perusal it was undoubtedly intended, this is of all others the document that should have been so treated. I regret that by any means it should have found its way into the newspapers. I regret that anything should have been done which expressly and purposely has taken away from her Majesty’s Government the means of considering that report before it was printed. My opinion is, that a commission having been appointed by Government to inquire and report to the Queen, should take care that the matters in that report should not first go to the public. In it, more especially the portion of it which relates to Upper Canada, there are statements which require the greatest consideration on the part of her Majesty’s Government, and it is most dangerous that they should have been made known by this mode of publication. I do hope, that it will be explained how this report came to be published before it was laid on the table of this House; for never was there a subject more likely to involve this country in the greatest difficulty.
The Earl of Durham—I presume, my Lords, that I am to understand that the observations with which the noble Lord concluded, are directed against myself. If that be the case, I beg to tell him with the greatest respect, with the greatest courtesy, but with the greatest determination, that they are utterly destitute of foundation. I know of no reason whatever that entitles him to make them; for he has utterly misrepresented what I said the other night in this House, I never expressed my surprise that the report should have been published, but I did express my regret, that a portion, and a portion only of it should have been laid before the public. How does this matter stand? I was urged repeatedly, and very naturally so, by her Majesty’s Ministers, to produce this report at as early a period as possible, in order, that it might be ready before the meeting of Parliament. I did so; but it was at the expense of considerable labour, and great anxiety of mind. It was utterly impossible for me to furnish manuscript copies, and to prevent excess of labour, and cost, the report was, as it was prepared, sent in proof sheets to her Majesty’s Ministers. By this means all was prepared, and a printed office-copy was sent on a Saturday night, and, as I understand,
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it was laid before her Majesty, in that state on Monday. At that period I was informed at the Colonial-office, that the papers would be laid on the Table of the House at the meeting of Parliament, and for which purpose, I understood, that two thousand co pies had been printed. When I found, that a change had taken place in this arrangement, and that it was not intended to present them at the meeting of Parliament, I put the question to the noble Viscount at the head of her Majesty’s Government. That question and answer are within the recollection of your Lordships. On my return home that night I found the following communication from the Secretary of State for the colonies, and which, as it is a public document, I venture to read to the House. It is dated “Downing-street, 5th February, 1839,” and signed “Glenelg.” The letter says— Downing-street, Feb. 5, 1839. My Lord—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship’s letter of the:31st ult., transmitting your report as her Majesty’s High Commissioner on the affairs of British North America.
Having had the honour of laying this report before the Queen, I am commanded to express to you her Majesty’s approbation of the attention which you have devoted to this important subject, and of the full and comprehensive view which you have taken of the various interests involved in it. I need not assure your Lordship, that this report will receive the most careful and attentive consideration from her Majesty’s Government. On a matter of such grave importance, and in the absence of the appendix to your report, which has not yet been received, I m, of course, unable to express any opinion on the recommendation which you have made; but her Majesty’s Government will not fail to take it into immediate consideration, in the hope, that the result of your labours may lay the foundation of a permanent settlement of the interests involved in the commission which was confided to you by her Majesty. I have, &c. (Signed) “GLENELG. The Earl of Durham, G.C.B, &c. &c &c. —Now, my Lords, it was not until after the formal communication which had been thus made to me through her Majesty’s Secretary of State;—it was not until I had formerly concluded the subject on which I had been engaged as her Majesty’s Commissioner—it was not until my public duties had been thus completely terminated—it was not until I received
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from one of her Majesty’s Ministers official permission to communicate the report to my friends, that I confidentially communicated it to a few of my friends. But having, as I conceived, the approbation of a Minister, I did conceive that I was at liberty to communicate that report confidentially to a few of my friends. This, then, my Lords, is all that I know of the transaction and I beg to repel the insinuation, or the charge, that I am in any degree responsible, or held to be an accessary to the publication of the report.
It is the more necessary for me to do this from the manner in which the accusation was cheered by the noble Earl (Lord Wicklow), who put a question to me the other night, founded upon a misapprehension with respect to a paragraph in the paper which gave the publication of the report. I did not then, no more than now, express surprise at the fact of the publication of the report. If it was true, that 2,000 copies of the report have been printed, is it to be a matter of surprise that the report should have found its way to the public? As far as I am concerned, but a few copies were distributed, not more than half-a-dozen amongst my friends, and, that not till after I received the communication from her Majesty’s Secretary of State. That is all the observations I have to make with respect to the insinuations of the noble Lord. I thank him for making them, I am exceedingly obliged to him, for they have given me this opportunity of directly repelling them, which otherwise I must have been deprived of.
Lord Wharncliffe—I made no insinuations against the noble Earl. He expressed his surprise at the publication.
The Earl of Durham—I rise to order. I have already said, and I am astonished the noble Lord does not attach any weight to the assertion, that I did not say, I was “surprised.” I said I deeply regretted the publication of a part only of the report, but I did not say I was “surprised.”
Lord Wharncliffe—I repeat it, that I made no insinuation against the noble Earl, but I must express my surprise that when he had distributed several copies to his private friends, he should have expressed any surprise, that any injustice had been done him in the publication, or that he should have thought, that he had any right to complain,
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Surely, when he distributed the copies amongst his friends, he must have supposed that the report would get into print. Here we have a giant press, whose chief object seems to be to precede each other in information; and could, then, the noble Lord believe, that when a number of copies were distributed amongst his friends, that one of these copies would not get into the newspapers? I am surprised, when he did thus distribute copies, how he should have expected that they would not obtain publicity. I give him credit for the assurance that he had nothing to do with it.
Lord Durham—Hear, Hear.
Lord Wharncliffe—The noble Lord may believe me or he may not, as he chooses: but I certainly do give him credit for his assurance that he himself did not send the report to the newspapers. I naturally acquit him of any such intention; but I do repeat, in the face of the House and of the country, that he, as a Commissioner, having a report to make to her Majesty, ought to have used every means to prevent any one seeing that report until her Majesty’s Ministers had had the opportunity of well considering it, and, in fact, of deliberating upon every line of it.
The Earl of Durham was understood to say, that he had the permission of one of her Majesty’s Ministers to communicate the report privately to a few of his friends.
The Earl of Aberdeen remarked, that though the report was presented printed, as the noble Lord said, because he could not make manuscript copies; there must have been a manuscript, and he did not see the difficulty of forwarding that to the Ministers. If he understood the matter correctly, her Majesty’s Government first saw the report in a printed form. This was liable to very great objection, for her Majesty’s Government ought to be in a condition to prevent a publication, and persisting in such a practice was likely to compromise them very much. To receive the report printed, the Government must have surrendered all the discretionary powers they ought to exercise to the noble Lord. It was to be observed, that in preparing a report, a Commissioner might state things, which it would be very proper to state, as matters to be considered by the Government, but which might be extremely improper to have laid before the public.
The Earl of Wicklow admitted, that what the noble Earl had stated on a previous
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evening, was, that he saw, not with surprise, but regret, that part of the report only was published. He had put the question to the noble Earl the other night, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the extracts published were garbled or not; and he understood they were not. From what had then fallen from the noble Earl, he did not believe, that he could possibly be privy in any way to the report finding access to the public press. Now the noble Earl said, that he was not surprised at the publication. He could only say, that he wished the noble Earl had so stated the other night.
And yet it was rather astonishing, that both the noble Earl and the noble Viscount should have conveyed the notion that they were both surprised at the publication of the report. He took it for granted, that the permission to issue some copies of the report to the friends of the noble Earl, was given by a Cabinet Minister. If so, the whole Cabinet was responsible; for he knew of no such thing as a single responsible Cabinet Minister. He wished to know, did the noble Viscount justify that proceeding? It was plain, that the whole of the transaction was a gross irregularity. The question which they were then discussing, was one that they ought never to have the power of having a discussion upon. The noble Earl ought to have drawn up his document in the usual way; and if he had done it in that way, an insult would not have been offered to both Houses of Parliament, such as had occurred in the present instance.
Viscount Melbourne quite agreed in some of the observations that had been made, that any course was liable to very great objection which took away that discretion which ought to be exercised, whether a matter ought to be produced or not, and which, though it might be fitting for a party to state, might still happen to be very unfit to be given to the public in this country and in Canada. The noble Lord (Wharncliffe) had expressed some astonishment that he should have been surprised at that report obtaining publicity. He was surprised at it, though he knew very well that copies that were printed were likely to come into the hands of those who would use every ingenuity to obtain them. The course pursued in this instance was that which had been followed in others where documents were about to be distributed for the perusal of Parliament.
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He had frequently known of papers of equal interest with this, or what he certainly considered at the time to be of equal interest, and which were looked for with as great, if not greater anxiety on the part of the conductors of the public press, and which had been printed in a similar manner with this document; but this was the only, the single instance in which they had thus transpired. He had never known them so to transpire before. With respect to what the noble Lord said of his permission to communicate the report to any persons, he must say, that he was himself totally ignorant of any such transaction. Of course, if the noble Lord thought he was right in communicating the report to some of his particular friends, and did that, then he made himself responsible for the discretion or the indiscretion that was exercised respecting it.
The Earl of Devon observed, that the printing of papers for that House was a patent office, and the practice was for different officers to give employment to favourite printers. The habit, then, was to have these things done in private printing-offices, and being thus printed, there was not a sufficient check over them. There was, in this respect, an infringement upon the privileges of the House, and they saw by that report what evils were likely to arise from it.
The Marquess of Westmeath remarked, that as it was evident the discussion upon the affairs of Canada was to be postponed sine die, he was the more anxious to make a few observations respecting them. The noble Earl had done the House the favour of telling their Lordships that there was the balance of an account due to him; and that the public were indebted to him in the sum of 10,000l. He did not like that any one of her Majesty’s subjects should be able to say that money was due to him for services, supposing them to be Much smaller than those of the noble Earl actually were. If her Majesty’s Ministers were responsible for any account between the noble Earl and the public, then the public would require that the sum due should be paid before any thing was done on the subject of Canada. Towards the close of the last Session, a certain statement had been made as to appointments; and then it appeared that the noble Viscount and the noble Earl were at issue on the ground of these appointments.
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Lord Brougham begged to call the noble Marquess to order, as there was then no question relating to Canada before the House, and the noble Marquess was about to enter upon it. In no respect could he quite agree with the noble Marquess that the discussion of the affairs of Canada was to be postponed sine die. On the contrary, he had an idea that there would be “no day” without a discussion upon Canada. It would he believed be discussed on all sides, and he was sure that the measures of Government respecting it must be discussed. He put it then to the noble Lord whether it would be proper to discuss them in the manner he was now doing, and without any notice upon the subject.
The Marquess of Westmeath said, he did not desire to go further into the subject at present; but what he wished to call their Lordships’ attention to was the claim which the noble Earl alleged he had against the public, and for aught he knew, it might possibly happen that the report was cheap at 10,000l.
The Earl of Durham wished to set the noble Marquess right; if the noble Marquess chose to be set right. He had never stated that he had a claim against the country for 10,000l.—he had never stated that he had a claim for 10d. against it. As to his personal expenses, which he had referred to, he had made no charge for them, having formed the determination to defray them out of his own pocket. He did not, and had not said that was a charge against the country, but that his determination was not to charge her Majesty’s Government with those expenses. He did state, undoubtedly, that the expenses, voluntarily incurred by himself, did amount to a sum little short of 10,000l. He might now, he hoped, be permitted to ask the House whether it were intended that this subject should be disfigured by personalities? Was this the mode in which their discussions and their debates relating to Canada were to be carried on? If noble Lords wished to indulge in personalities, he offered himself to them to pursue the course which seemed to them the best. Let them say of him what they pleased; let them set apart one day for personal attacks; but then let these things be finished, and then let them come to the great and important question, and the mighty interests involved in it, without any admixture of low, petty, and personal feelings.
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The Marquess of Westmeath wished always to be set right, and he should be very sorry if the noble Earl could suppose he did not entertain that desire, or that he was influenced by personal feelings, or had any desire to indulge in personality. It was only on the ground of his being a public man that he had at all referred to the matter.
The Marquess of Londonderry said, that from what had passed that evening he was induced to withdraw the notice he had given for Thursday. He had considered that he should have been able to have expressed a professional opinion of the affairs which had taken place in Canada, independently of the general question. But finding, from the papers now laid on the table, the certainty of a discussion of the most important nature upon the whole subject, he considered that it ought not to he taken up in detached details. He reserved to himself, however, the right of taking up the professional view of the subject when the matter should come under debate. Before he sat down he must take leave to say one word in reference to what passed on Friday evening.
He, perhaps, should not have resisted a specification of the place to which he then alluded, had it not been, that the noble Lord, the commander-in-chief of her Majesty’s forces, made a direct call upon him for that specification, when that noble Lord must have recollected that that very morning he had had a conversation with him upon the subject, and he had asked him for a public order, which had been sent out to Sir J. Craig, and afterwards promulgated by the Duke of York, which the noble Lord had refused. The noble commander-in-chief, therefore, having been put fully into possession of every information on the subject by him within two hours of the time at which the subject was mentioned in their Lordships’ House, he was the last person surrounded by any set of noble Lords who ought so discourteously to have persisted in calling for that specification. He respected the noble Commander-in-chief, and had always respected him, and looked up to him, and he did not expect such conduct from the noble Lord.