UK, House of Lords, “Legislative Council (Canada) Bill”, vol 134, cols 501-507 (22 June 1854)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Legislative Council (Canada) Bill“, vol 134 (1854), cols 501-507.
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LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL (CANADA) BILL
Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
The Earl of Derby said, he was not present on the second reading of this Bill, but on that occasion he understood that a noble Friend of his (the Earl of Desert) urged upon the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Newcastle) that full time should be given for the consideration of this Bill, and that it would be desirable to postpone its consideration until certain papers relating to it should be laid on the table of the House. These papers had only been laid on the table within the last two days, and noble Lords could scarcely have had sufficient time to give them their consideration.
If his noble Friend would consent now to postpone the Committee on the Bill, he (the Earl of Derby) would be ready to spare the House at that time from listening to the observations which he should otherwise feel it his duty to make in reference to the measure. Upon the second reading of the Bill, which was introduced towards the middle of the present month of June, for giving to the Legislature of Canada power to alter the constitution of that country. a noble Friend of his, formerly connected with the Colonies (the Earl of Desart), requested to know from the noble Duke what was the probable course which the Legislature of Canada would take in the event of the Bill passing into a law. In
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consequence of this, after the second reading had been agreed to, the noble Duke !aid the papers in question on the table, from which it appeared that the intentions of the Legislature of Canada on the subject had been made known to the noble Duke so long ago as the 11th of July, 1853. Those papers involved propositions for the complete and absolute subversion of the constitution of Canada—he repeated that the propositions of the Legislature of Canada involved an absolute subversion of the present constitution, or in other words, a change from the present form of a limited monarchy into what would be practically an absolutely democratical Government. It might be right or wrong that such a change should take place; but he apprehended that such a change could not take place without the sanction of the British Parliament, and without the fullest opportunity being given for Parliament to discuss so great a measure, and to take into consideration the whole circumstances of the case.
The intentions of the Canadian Legislature were known to the Government so far back as the 11th July, 1853, and yet the noble Duke took from that time till the 26th May, 1854, to consider what answer the Government should send to that representation. It was not, however, until after the second reading of the Bill, on the 15th of June, 1854, that Her Majesty’s Government—and that not of their own accord, but pressed by the other side of the House—placed Parliament in a position to know what were the intentions of the Legislature of Canada on this important question.
Now, before he went further, he would ask the noble Duke whether, that being the state of the information, or rather the want of information, he considered it decent that the Committee on this Bill—it being the first opportunity they had had of discussing any part of it since the intentions of the Canadian Legislature had been made known—should be gone into in a House consisting at that moment of some dozen Members; all those who had hitherto taken an interest in the measure, being absent from a full persuasion that the Bill would not be brought forward again without full notice? He would ask the noble Duke to postpone the Bill for a period of seven days, on the ground that a measure of this importance should not be passed without being fully and completely discussed. If the noble Duke would assent to that postponement, he (the Earl of Derby) would
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not say a single word more; but otherwise he should feel it his duty to enter into a full explanation of his views in reference to the important question involved in the Bill, and to ask their Lordships whether they would consent to a measure which proposed to establish nothing else than a republic under the thinnest of all disguises?
The Duke of Newcastle said, he could not help feeling that the noble Earl had said too much or too little, if his object was simply to effect a postponement of the Committee on this Bill. If the noble Earl meant really to obtain a postponement of the Bill, he might have asked him (the Duke of Newcastle) without the violent comments with which he had thought proper to accompany his request. The noble Earl had asked him whether he thought it decent that he should proceed with the Bill to-night, after having given notice that he should bring it on to-night. He would tell the noble Earl that he (the noble Earl) had, himself, every reason to believe that the Committee on the Bill would be taken to-night.
He (the Duke of Newcastle) agreed on the evening of Thursday last to produce the papers hearing on the question, and he fixed the Committee on the Bill for to-night. On Monday last the noble Earl on the cross-benches (the Earl of Desart) came across the House to him (the Duke of Newcastle), stating that he was requested by the Earl of Derby to ask, whether it was his intention to proceed with the Committee On the Bill to-night. He replied to the noble Earl in the affirmative, and the noble Earl conveyed the message back to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby).
The Earl of Derby interposed an observation across the table, that he had understood the answer of the noble Duke to be quite the other way.
The Duke of Newcastle said, he had given the noble Earl (the Earl of Desart) clearly to understand that the Committee on the Bill would be taken to-night; and the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) having had that due notice, was it, he asked, fair or right that their Lordships should be called on to postpone a Bill of this kind? Again, why was the noble Earl not present on the second reading of the Bill? Why, the noble Earl was then at Ascot; and now, after calling on him to postpone the Bill, the noble Earl proceeded to denounce it, by stating that the Government had introduced a measure to change the whole constitution of Canada, and to
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constitute that Colony a republic and a democracy. Now, precisely the same principle was involved in the constitution given to the Cape of Good Hope; and yet the Government of which the noble Earl was the head never objected to it when that measure was under discussion; the noble Earl said, then it was merely a question of time whether that constitution should be given to the Cape whilst the war was pending there, or whether it should be given after the war. Why did not the noble Earl last year, when they were sending that constitution out to the Cape of Good Hope, raise the objection which he had taken to-night, and say that they were sacrificing the monarchy in the case of the Cape, and constituting in that Colony a republic and a democracy?
He (the Duke of Newcastle) did not know what could have induced the noble Earl to use the harsh language which he had employed on this occasion. What was the paper which the noble Earl thought he had not had time to peruse before the Committee was taken on the Bill? Why it contained only twenty-four pages, and was laid on the table of the House on Monday last; and, notwithstanding that, the noble Earl complained that he was taken by surprise, and that he had not had sufficient time to consider that document. Again, the noble Earl had made a complete misrepresentation, inasmuch as he had said that the papers which had been laid on the table were received in July last, and that the Government had taken from that time to this to decide whether they would adopt the measures of the Canadian Legislature or not.
The noble Earl had entirely confused the dates. The document to which the noble Earl referred was received at the Colonial Office, not in July last, but in February last. This question was undoubtedly not taken up by the Government at the commencement of the Session; but was that any reason why the Government should not endeavour to pass a Bill on the subject before the Session closed? He would tell the noble Earl why it had been delayed. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was anxious to have the fullest concurrence of the Earl of Elgin, the Governor General of the Colony, before he recommended the Government to introduce a Bill of this kind. He was now in a position to state that he had that noble Earl’s sanction to this measure; and he could not for a moment think that the Earl of Elgin would be a party to consent to the sacrifice of the monarchy of England, or to the constitution of Canada being
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changed into a republic or a democracy. He thought it very unfair on the part of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) to make the request for the postponement of this Bill in the terms and the manner he had done. It was obviously the intention of the noble Earl, in taking that course, to raise a prejudice against that Bill, for the purpose of taking the benefit of that prejudice on a future occasion. He (the Duke of Newcastle) felt the inconvenience of postponing the Bill at this time, but sooner than allow the noble Earl the pretence for afterwards saying that he bad pressed on the measure with anything like undue haste, he would, however unfair and uncandid had been the manner of the noble Earl towards him on this occasion—as indeed it usually was—consent to postpone the Committee on the Bill to that day week.
The Earl of Derby said, the noble Duke had, with very considerable and, as he thought, unnecessary heat, responded to the request that he had made to postpone the Committee on the Bill. He disclaimed the use of any expression which the noble Duke could reasonably construe as being unfair and uncandid towards him. He admitted having said that the noble Duke was acting with indecent haste in pressing forward, after the very short time since the papers it; question were laid on the table, a measure of this importance, and when his intention to do so could have been known to only a small portion of the Members of either this or the other House of Parliament. He had read the papers through, and he did not feel that he was guilty of the misrepresentation which the noble Duke supposed. He did not say, however, that the noble Duke and Her Majesty’s Government were in possession of the views of the Legislature of Canada, that they were made known to them in July last, and that it was not until June in the present year that those intentions were made known to this House. It was perfectly true, as the noble Duke had said, that the draft Bill was not received in this country until February last; but the despatches which preceded it must have been received long before that time.
The Duke of Newcastle said, the despatches had been laid on the table of the other House of Parliament.
The Earl of Derby—The noble Duke had said it was perfectly well known that he would bring forward this measure to-night. But he (the Earl of Derby) had
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every reason to believe that it was not the noble Duke’s intention to bring it on to-night. He instructed his noble Friend (the Earl of Desart) a few nights ago, to inquire of the noble Duke when he would proceed with the Committee on the Bill; and all that he (the Earl of Derby) heard in answer was, that it was not the noble Duke’s intention to proceed with the Bill until the papers were in the hands of Members.
The Duke of Newcastle—I said expressly that I should bring it forward on Thursday.
The Earl of Derby said, he had a letter from his noble Friend, written on his going from this country to Ireland, stating that he saw with great surprise that the noble Duke had fixed the Committee for Thursday, assuming as a matter of course that he would not bring it on until after full notice was given to Members of this House. Upon a matter of this importance, would it have been too much that their Lordships should have been summoned to attend its discussion? Was this a Bill like the Public Statues Bill or the Vaccination Amendment Act? He (the Earl of Derby) said this was a great question. The proposed measure made a vast alteration in the constitution of the most important of our Colonies; and it was right and proper that it should be discussed in this House with full notice, with ample preparation, and with a full knowledge of what the consequences of their legislation on the subject might be. With respect to the constitution given to the Cape of Good Hope, and the charge made by the noble Duke that he (the Earl of Derby) did not object to that constitution, which contained a precisely similar principle to that involved in the Bill under discussion, the reason why he did not object was simply because an Act of Parliament had passed sanctioning that principle.
But in the case of the constitution for New Zealand, which contained a similar principle, he would remind their Lordships that that principle was resisted, and successfully resisted, by the Government to which he had the honour to belong. He thought their Lordships would agree with him that this was a question which ought not to be discussed in a House of ten or twelve Members. He did not regret this short discussion, seeing that it might have a tendency to direct public attention to the subject before it came again under their consideration.
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The Duke of Newcastle said, he begged to remind their Lordships that some discussion did take place on the second reading, and that the noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Desart), who took part in that discussion, appeared entirely to discountenance the notion of opposing the Bill. He had, therefore, every reason to suppose that there was not the slightest intention of taking any division on any subsequent stage of the measure.
Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn; and House to be put into Committee on Thursday next.
House adjourned till to-morrow.
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