HC Deb 27 March 1828 vol 18 cc1350-7
Mr. Alderman Waithman

rose to submit a motion for information regarding the Canada Company, but begged to be distinctly understood, as not meaning to cast any reflection either upon the company collectively, or upon the individuals composing it. His object was, merely that the House should be in possession of all the knowledge it could acquire, before it came to any decision on the subject of emigration. He believed that when the company was formed, the House was not at all aware of the terms: an act was passed to enable the government to grant a charter, but parliament was not made acquainted with the extent of the capital, or with any of the conditions. In the Prospectus, it was proposed that a capital of one million should be raised; and with such a sum it was natural to suppose that emigration to a considerable extent would be promoted. The fact, however, was, that only 100,000l. had been obtained, and it had been stipulated that 50,000l. only should be laid out on the land, and the rest paid to government. The grant seemed to have been most improvident; for the money was to be paid by instalments, and those instalments were spread over sixteen years. He could understand from experience—and the best of all experience, because he had paid for it— that it was utterly impossible that the individuals concerned in the speculation could obtain any remuneration; for it was idle to suppose that persons who emigrated would be in a condition to pay for the land. If the parties entitled were upon the spot, they might, indeed, in two or three years, be paid in produce, but otherwise it was out of the question. There was one essential point to be considered. When it was proposed to send persons out to Canada, it was quite clear, from papers before the House, that it could not be done with respect to mere paupers, who would be worse off there than in this country, and it would cost an immense sum for government, at the rate of 50l. or 60l. each person, to send out even those who had a small capital: that plan was neither prudent nor practicable. He should also like to know how and on what terms government could grant the land to the company. It had been granted at the rate of 3s. and 3l. 6d. per acre, and the company proposed to sell it to individuals, to whom they did not advance 6d. to enable them to emigrate, at the rate of 10s. per acre, while for what were called town-lots the company was to receive for every quarter of an acre, in some cases 20s., in others 30s., and in others 40s. This appeared a most enormous profit, and if it were to be had, he saw no reason why government should not have obtained it. At one period, the shares of the company, which were originally 10l., advanced to a premium above the cost price of 36l., and even afterwards, when many relinquished their shares, owing to the revocation of the original grant by government, the shares were still sold at a profit of 8l. upon 10l. He did not charge the company with having taken any undue means to impose upon the public, but he saw no reason why government was to obtain no profit upon this grant of a million of acres, which was to be so advantageous to the company. Besides, having sold the land, how could the government with fairness send out other emigrants to enter into competition with the company? He believed, however, that the whole project was fallacious, and that it would end to the advantage of nobody concerned in it. With a view to putting the House in possession of all necessary information regarding the contract and the progress of the undertaking, he moved that there be laid before the House "an Account of the quantity of land in Upper Canada sold to the Canada Company, stating the terms and conditions of such sale; the sum of money paid in conformity thereto; the number of persons sent out to Canada by the company; the times when they were sent out; the quantity of land appropriated to them, with the price paid or to be paid for the same."

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, that as he was connected with the Colonial Department at the date of this transaction, he would merely say a few words, leaving it to the Secretary of State either to give or withhold the account required. He might, indeed, incidentally mention, that the House was already in possession of half the information the hon. alderman wished to obtain: the terms of the contract with the company had been printed, and in the hands of members for some years. As to what the Canada Company had done, he did not know what power the House possessed to compel that body to disclose in what manner its business had been conducted. He had that morning read over four closely-printed folio pages of a Prospectus, detailing all the proceedings of the company, from its creation to the present hour, and from thence, he thought, the hon. alderman might have obtained all he desired on the second branch of his inquiry. The consistency of the argument of the hon. alderman he could not understand; first, he had contended, that the Canada Company had obtained an enormous profit, which ought to have come into the hands of government; and next he had insisted that the whole project was fallacious, and that the loss to the individuals engaged in it would be enormous. With respect to the high premium on the shares, it was quite cer- tain that no person connected with the Colonial Department had participated in any of the advantages thus acquired. The price of the land sold had been settled by commissioners after they had taken the utmost pains, with every facility, to arrive at a just conclusion. He hoped that the undertaking would be ultimately beneficial to the company, because he was sure that all the ingredients of wealth were to be found in the cultivation of that land, and in the encouragement of colonization. It was in the power of any hon. member to investigate whether government had or had not made an improvident bargain; but neither he nor the House had a right to interfere with the private details and affairs of the company.

Mr. Bright

hoped that the members of the company would make fortunes, but recommended the government to take care that the terms of the bargain were exactly fulfilled. It was of the utmost consequence, that from time to time, the House should make itself acquainted with the proceedings of the company; especially with a view to the general question of emigration. He, therefore, hoped that no technical objection would be thrown in the way of the production of the account required. In Canada there was a proportion of land, called Crown and Clergy Reserves, and as they most injuriously interfered with the prosperity of the colony, by preventing communication between one part and another, he wished to know whether any of those Reserves had been extirpated.

Mr. W. Horton

replied, that there was already before the House a bill, which had for its object the progressive abolition of the Clergy Reserves. The Crown Reserves were also in a course of extinction.

Mr. Easthope

assured the House, on behalf of the Canada Company, that it had not the slightest objection to the fullest investigation of its concerns. The hon. alderman had spoken of the enormous profits of the company. He could inform the House, that the shares were at that moment at fifty per cent discount. Nothing could be further from the intentions of the company than a desire to avoid the bargain into which they had entered. It was not the purpose of the Canada Company to do more than to place the lands purchased from government at the disposal of such persons as might be inclined to take them. The company went through the preliminary steps necessary to a settlement. They did all that could be done by limited capital; and which must be done before the land could be available for any profitable purpose. Such was the object of the company, and they invited the closest scrutiny of the manner in which they had proceeded in the attainment of that object.

Mr. Warburton

insisted, that the House had a right to ascertain whether or not the company had fulfilled its part of the contract.

Mr. W. Horton

admitted the right, but denied the power, of the House to inspect all the private accounts of the company.

Mr. Warburton

called upon government to watch the proceedings of the company with jealousy; although he had no doubt, from the candid statement of the hon. gentleman, that at present there was nothing to be complained of.

Mr. Stanley,

injustice to the company, felt bound to state, that during the short time he had been in the Colonial Office, he had found that body ready to enter into the fullest explanations government had a right to demand. He believed that the whole of the terms of the contract had been definitively settled. Some misapprehension might arise out of the expressions used that night: the contract at one time was called a grant, at another a sale, and at a third, a bargain; but whatever it was, he was satisfied that no favour had been shown to the company, but that it had obtained a certain portion of land, that it might be put into a state capable of cultivation. The payments were made by annual instalments, and no title was given to the company until they had fulfilled all the preliminary parts of the engagement: when the money was paid the title was given, and not till then. He did not mean to use the words in an opprobrious sense; but the fact certainly was, that the company was a body of land-jobbers. If the proprietors ever derived any profits from the scheme, it could only be at a very remote period, and they must lay out of their money for many years. In the mean time, heavy expenses must be incurred; and, before it would be taken by settlers, the company must confer on the land a value that could only be given to it by the disbursement of a large capital. As one part of the motion was already satisfied, and another could not be complied with, he wished it to be withdrawn.

Mr. Hume

said, that, being one of those who were anxious to promote emigration, he was far from viewing this company with a jealous eye, or from reproaching government with the contracts they had entered into with it. On the contrary, he should like to see similar bargains made with a dozen other companies, on the same terms and with the same objects. This company had purchased a million or two of acres at a certain price, and as this sum was received, it was to be applied to defray the expenses of those colonies, which had been hitherto paid by that House. The company assisted emigrants who found their way across the Atlantic, with the means of removing themselves to the place where they were to be located; and it supplied them, besides, with provisions for a year or a year and a half. Thus the company forwarded emigration in the best possible manner, without calling on the government for any assistance. By its exertions large tracts of soil, which would otherwise remain barren, had been brought under cultivation. He was sure, if other companies could be induced to employ their capital in the same way, they would be amply repaid in six or seven years, and would render great benefit to the public, by finding employment in the colonies for multitudes of people who could find none in their own country.

Mr. Secretary Huskisson

said, that the hon. gentleman had taken a correct view of the utility of these companies to the country. In other parts of the world there were immense tracts of wild land which were totally unproductive; and if, by any company, they could be brought under cultivation, so as to make a return to the parties employed upon them, the result would be, not only beneficial to the colony, but to the general interests of this country. He was glad that he could state, that companies on the same principle had been formed in New South Wales and at Van Diemen's Land. He trusted they would be all successful; for to the extent in which they reclaimed lands from the state of nature, they contributed essentially to the increase of the power and resources of this country. By the contract with the Colonial Department, the Canada Company had given for what it had purchased the full rate at which land was selling in the market. The company was paying down ready money, while it had to look to a remote period for the return of the capital so embarked. The hon. member for Bristol had talked as if this company had been turned loose in Canada, to select for itself any favourite spot it might fancy. But what was the fact? The company had first contracted for two millions of acres, consisting of clergy and crown reserves. Some difficulty arose as to the clergy reserves which could not be overcome, and the result was that they did not form part of the contract, and the company received in lieu of them a million of acres, situated on the banks of Lake Huron, lying in one lot together. The company obtained no title to those lands but as they were progressively settled, and the purchase money paid. As the company in succession received the titles, the public would receive an annual sum in aid of the burthen which the colonies brought on this country in maintaining their civil establishments. Government had not been so improvident as to leave out of their view public improvements in these colonies. It had been stipulated, that one third of the money from the company should be expended in building bridges, making roads, and other public purposes of convenience and benefit. A more judicious appropriation of the land could not have been devised. The company had no desire to conceal its proceedings. The best way in which its prosperity could be promoted was by making known all its proceedings, and inviting, rather than shunning, investigation. He knew nothing as to the profits of the company; but he believed the directors did not regard its affairs as likely to excite either jealousy or envy. He trusted that the great mass of papers already before the House would satisfy the hon. alderman, without adding to them these returns; more especially as the hon. alderman had, on the point in question, already obtained explanation. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. alderman would not press his motion, but be contented with applying to the directors; any one of whom could give him the information he required. He agreed with his hon. friend, the member for Preston, that this was a question which claimed the attention of government, involving, as it did, so many interests connected with the permanent welfare and general prosperity of that important part of the king's dominions, and particularly as it concerned the constitu- tional rights of the inhabitants, under the act of 1791. After the recess it was his intention to call the attention of the House to the whole of this great subject.

After a short reply, the worthy alderman consented to withdraw his motion.