HC Deb 25 March 1823 vol 8 cc702-4
Mr. Wilmot

moved for leave to bring in a bill to amend the laws in Newfoundland. It was his intention to have the bill printed, and to take the debate upon the second reading. The bill had three general objects; first, the amendment of the laws respecting the fisheries; second, the improvement of the courts of justice; and lastly, the institution of a local power to make bye laws under certain circumstances.

Sir J. Newport

considered the proposition to be of a novel nature, since it went to supply an improved system of judicature, while it left that which was defective to exist at the same time.

Mr. Bright

thought, before they proceeded to legislate on this subject, that more information, as to the state of the colony, ought to be afforded.

Dr. Lushington

said, there never had been a colony, so neglected as that of Newfoundland. He wished to know whether the details, of a measure which affected the concerns of 60,000 persons, had been first submitted to the consideration of the inhabitants.

Mr. Wilmot

said, that the measure was brought in upon the responsibility of government.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

said, he felt deeply for the interests of Newfoundland, and would rejoice at the introduction of any measure likely to tend to her prosperity; but he thought the root of the evil which was destroying that colony had been laid in the last treaty with America; which; by allowing the Americans to fish in the waters and to dry their fish on the coast, had occasioned the loss of almost the whole trade to Newfoundland, as the Americans, by their local advantages, were enabled to undersell the British merchants.

Mr. Hume

thought, that a bill which went to change the internal economy of the settlement, ought not to have been proposed but upon information adduced before a committee. If the people of the colony had made complaints of the existing system of law, those complaints ought to be laid on the table; and if they had not complaints, he did not see what necessity ministers had to legislate in the dark, in a case which affected the interest of a population of 60,000 souls.

Mr. Tulk

described the island of Newfoundland to be in a state of absolute ruin. A measure so important as the present, ought not only to be made well known to those connected with Newfoundland in this country, but time ought to be afforded to make the inhabitants acquainted with its provisions.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if the trade of Newfoundland was ruined by the last treaty concluded with America, he was the guilty person; as he had signed that treaty. He alluded not to the treaty of Ghent, but to that of 1818. He did not consider the effect of that treaty to be such as had been described. The House, however, ought to bear in mind the circumstances under which it was concluded. A question of great delicacy and importance was then under discussion, which was this, whether the fact of a declaration of war having since taken place, altered the rights which had been given to America by the treaty of 1783? On the part of America, it was contended, that the re-establishment of peace between the two countries, ipso facto, restored all the rights which they previously enjoyed. It was soon seen that this was a question which could only be settled by compromise or war. He had not thought it wise that this country should go to war on it, and had therefore advised a compromise. This had taken place accordingly. America conceded some of the rights which had been given to her by the treaty of 1783: and we, in consideration of this, gave them the privilege of drying fish on part of the coast of Newfoundland. He did not know that what had been conceded had proved prejudicial to the trade of Newfoundland, and he was confident that such was not the case; for that privilege which had been considered most dangerous, the Americans had availed themselves of to a very limited extent: indeed, not at all, till within the last year or two. At present, we supplied the south of Europe with fish to the exclusion of America, as much as at any former period. The measure now proposed to be introduced, he maintained, was necessary for the good government of the country. Ministers were often blamed for throwing on committees that responsibility which they ought to take upon themselves. Now, they were censured for preferring an opposite policy.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.