HC Deb 27 June 1831 vol 4 cc359-61
Mr. George Robinson

wished to put a few questions to the noble Lord opposite, the Under Secretary for the Colonies, with regard to the Island of Newfoundland, and upon the answers which he should receive would depend the mode in which he (Mr. Robinson) should act in reference to that subject. He wished, in the first instance, to know whether any determination had been come to by his Majesty's Government with regard to the petition which had been presented from the inhabitants of Newfoundland, praying that a local legislature should be granted to them. His next question was, whether any instructions had been given to the governor of that colony to protect his Majesty's subjects in exercising their concurrent right with the French, of fishing on what was called the French coast? In the third place he was desirous to know, whether it was the intention of the noble Lord to bring in any measures for revising the laws in force in that Island, for regulating the fisheries, and for the administration of justice. If he did not receive satisfactory answers to those questions from the noble Lord, he should feel it his duty to bring the subject under the consideration of the House as soon as possible.

Lord Howick

begged to state, in answer to the first question of the hon. Member, that the petition referred to had attracted the serious attention of his Majesty's Government, and that it was the full persuasion of his Majesty's Government, that the people of Newfoundland were entitled, taking into account the wealth and importance of the Island, to have a direct control in the management of their own affairs; but they could not conceal from themselves, that there would be great difficulty in introducing a local legislature into a colony in which there was only one town of considerable importance—namely, St. John's. The other towns of Newfoundland were at a great distance from St. John's; they were all small towns, and the communication between them and St. John's was, during a great portion of the year, entirely cut off. It would be impossible, therefore, if a local legislature were established there, that any influence could be possessed over it, unless by the town of St. John's. It was plain, then, that it would be extremely difficult to introduce what was understood by a local legislature into that colony. He trusted, however, that by the adoption of other measures the inhabitants of that Island would obtain some share in the management of their own affairs. With respect to affording protection to the English fishing on the French shore, he did not take the view which the hon. Member appeared to take of that point. It should be recollected that the right to fish there was disputed by the French, and the treaty of 1783, and the declaration which was made subsequently, in consequence of that treaty, rendered it extremely doubtful that the English possessed any such right. At all events, the question was still a matter of doubt; and while it remained undecided, Government could not act as the hon. Member desired. With regard to the revision of the laws in force in Newfoundland, he begged to say, that he had no intention whatever to bring in any new Act for that purpose this Session.

Mr. George Robinson

said, that under such circumstances, he felt it his duty to give notice, that upon the 5th of July he should move an Address to the Crown, with regard to the state of Newfoundland.