HC Deb 22 January 1838 vol 40 cc254-65

Mr. Grote moved, that the Petition of Mr. J. A. Roebuck, presented by him on Wednesday night, be read.

The petition was read.

Sir R. Inglis

begged to call the attention of the House to the omission of one phrase which had been made in this petition—viz., the omission of the word "humbly" in the sentence "and your petitioner therefore prays." He assumed that it was entirely accidental, but it was a phrase which it had been the invariable practice of the House to require. If the petition had been presented from any ordinary person, he should not have thought the objection necessary, and he would have been the last person to have made such a complaint.

Mr. Grote

was sure it never had been the intention of Mr. Roebuck in preparing his petition, or of himself (Mr. Grote) in presenting it, that there should be any omission, or that it should be couched in a manner contrary to the established forms of the House. He was not aware that "and your petitioner humbly prays "was required by those forms as an essential phrase of the petition, and he rather thought (if his recollection were right on this point), that on several former occasions he had presented petitions without it, and had nevertheless considered that he had done his duty, and that the petitions were in decorous and respectful language. He felt satisfied, that it was not the intention of Mr. Roebuck to omit any form of words which a sense of respect and courtesy to the House required.

Sir R. Inglis

only wished to observe, as the hon. Member for London had said the omission in this case had been unintentional, though he thought also that it had been made in former petitions when no objection had been raised, that the only exceptions made to this rule were in the cases of Peers and Quakers, to neither of which classes did the present petitioners belong. As the hon. Member had said the omission was one of inadvertence, there would probably be no difficulty in conforming, in this instance, to precedent. He did not wish to raise the privileges of the House too high, but every one who had had the honour of a seat in the House, as was the case with the petitioner, must see the necessity of its forms being attended to, and if the petition had been from an ordinary person, he should not have noticed it.

Mr. Grote

proposed that John Arthur Roebuck, esq., be heard at the bar of the House as the agent of the Assembly of Lower Canada, against the Canada Bill on the second reading thereof. From the few words which were spoken in the House on Wednesday night on this subject, he hoped there would be no difficulty in his motion being allowed, and that whatever might be the opinions of hon. Gentlemen as to the policy or propriety of the measure, they would think it was not more than justice itself required that an opportunity should be given to the agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, of stating their case before the House of Commons. In the preamble of the Bill now pending in the House, the House would perceive, that in point of fact, the sitting of the House of Assembly would be essentially prohibited; that this was what it was intended most particularly to prevent, and it was a question on which both the House of Assembly, and the whole body of people of Lower Canada were most directly interested. The suspension of the, constitution was, in fact, a suspension of the House of Assembly, which was the most important part of that constitution;' and it was impossible, when Gentlemen saw how much the people of the colony were interested in the decision of the question now before the House, as to the right of the Assembly to hold their sittings, and recollected the imperfect information they possessed, and how completely all that information came from one side of the question, for them to think that they could come to an impartial opinion upon the bills without giving full opportunity to those persons who represented the feelings of the House of Assembly, and were well acquainted with the affairs of Lower Canada, from setting forth their case fully and fairly before the House. It would be in the recollection of the House, that the noble Lord, the Member for Stroud, in his speech on Tuesday night, laid as his ground, indeed it was his principal ground, for the introduction of the present measure, the entire want of confidence which he felt in the House of Assembly; and the noble Lord went through the acts of that House for a series of years, to prove that they had forfeited all claim to confidence, and were no longer worthy to be viewed in their legislative character. Whether the House thought that the noble Lord had adduced sufficient evidence to justify that assertion he would not now stop to inquire, but he would say, that it was a matter of justice and equity to give the agent of that body, now in England, an opportunity of defending them at the bar of that House against accusations which it was most painful to hear. He did not anticipate that any objection could be made on the principle of the motion. As to the question of the proper stage at which Mr. Roebuck should be heard (assuming that the House allowed it at all), he believed that invariable precedent had decided that an agent could only be heard after the second reading of the Bill to which he objected should have been agreed to. He did not wish the House to depart now from the established course, and therefore hoped Mr. Roebuck would be heard after the second reading had been agreed to. Inasmuch, however, as he in common with several other Gentlemen in the House, entertained serious objections to the principle of the Bill, and as he should be sorry that by proposing this course, he should be thought to acquiesce in it, he would just state, that he had done so, as he thought it was a more convenient course for the House to enter into a full and fair discussion after they had been put in possession of the facts and reasons which would be stated by Mr. Roebuck, and that the second reading being now formally agreed to, a full discussion of the Bill both in principle and detail might take place on the question that the Bill be committed. 'He was quite sure, that if the House decided on the Bill without hearing Mr. Roebuck, they would be guilty of inadvertence in deciding without that evidence which was most material for its due consideration. He, therefore, begged to move, that Mr. Roebuck be heard at the bar of the House.

Mr. Gladstone

said, that although he concurred in the general considerations of the hon. Member for London as to the advantage of hearing some individual well acquainted with Canada matters on the question before the House, and therefore that it would be most desirable to hear the gentleman before named, he at the same time felt it his duty to protest against any recognition by the House of Mr. Roebuck as the agent of the House of Assembly. The hon. Gentleman on the previous night had cited the case of Mr. Lymburner in 1791, but this case differed from the present in two particulars—the first was, that Mr. Lymburner represented the whole province, or interests common to the whole province, and there was no difference or dissension; and the second point (which was more important) was, that Mr. Lymburner had been especially deputed by the community or a large portion of the community of Canada, and that he was deputed pro hac vice; but Mr. Roebuck was not so deputed and he came pleading the general title of agency, but of which he deduced his act Time to act on behalf of his constituents, and appear at the bar of the House. He was not aware of any constitutional privilege or right for colonies to appoint agents with powers of this general description, and if allowed in practice it must lead to interminable confusion. If it were allowed to the lower House in any colony to appoint an agent, it could not be refused to the Legislative Council, and then every dispute would be transferred from the colony to this country, and all questions would be settled at the Colonial-office here, after the Colonial Secretary of State had heard the statements of the respective agents. He did not say whether this was a good system of government or a bad one, but it was essentially different from that by which our colonies were regulated now. As regarded the inconvenience which could not be disputed, the question was how to avoid it, and to him it was a most serious one. There was nothing that he should regret more than that the prayer of the petition should be rejected. It was, in his opinion, most desirable to hear Mr. Roebuck. The House had listened to him on former occasions, and profited by his accurate knowledge of the matter in question. He had often appeared in the House as representative of the House of Assembly, and as he was perfectly qualified as a member of the bar to act as their agent, be thought it was a case of equity that he should be heard. He would not deny that the House of Assembly had a right to appoint an agent for a particular purpose, yet when he recollected the course recently taken by that House, he objected to their agent being recognised by the House of Commons. When he recollected what had been done on former occasions upon the Municipal Corporations Bill, when the parties had been heard by their agents at the bar of the House, and that there were many other precedents for such a course, he could not bring himself to recommend a rejection of the prayer of the petition. But admitting the incapacity of the House of Assembly to depute either Mr. Roe, buck or any other person to be their agent, it appeared to him better to omit the words "agent for the House of Assembly" from the petition, but not to oppose his being heard. He did not say this course was unobjectionable, but nothing could induce him to recognise the title of Mr. Roebuck, satisfied as he was, that it would lead to every sort of anomaly in practice, and difficulty in conducting the business of the House.

Lord J. Russell

was glad that the question had been reserved for discussion until to-day, in order that the House might fully consider the position in which they were placed. He was glad the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated his views on the question now before them, and he was also glad to find that the hon. Gentleman was of the same opinion which he himself entertained, not to allow objections of a mere formal nature to prevent their hearing Mr. Roebuck on this important question. He would say, perhaps, if the bill only partially affected Lower Canada, or its interests only incidentally, it might be proper for the House to take the point of form and consider whether they ought to hear Mr. Roebuck in his character as agent; but on the present occasion he was rather disposed to look at the position in which Mr. Roebuck had for some time stood. Mr. Roebuck stated, that having the resolution of the House of Assembly, authorizing him to act as agent, he sought permission to address them in that capacity. He did not believe that Mr. Roebuck had been ever recognized as agent of the House of Assembly at the Colonial-office, though he had been sometimes received there as their representative, and the payment of a certain sum in the item of contingencies to Mr. Roebuck, for his services and the expenses which he might incur by acting in this character, had been agreed to by the governor. Such being the case, he thought it was better on an occasion of such great importance, so vital to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, that the House should hear Mr. Roebuck in the character which he assumed, not as agent for the province, not as agent appointed by a bill consented to by the governor of that province, but as the agent chosen by the House of say to represent their interests. The hon. Gentleman who had fast spoken had proposed that Mr. Roebuck should be heard in his individual capacity, but he thought that this would be a precedent leading to worse consequences than the one he mentioned, of hearing him as agent of the House of Assembly. In the character thus assumed by Mr. Roebuck, there could be no objection in a question of such great importance to the colony to hear an agent appointed by that House, who in this country represented them, and who received a salary for that purpose; but if they heard him merely in his individual capacity, he thought hereafter it might be open to any private person to say, "I take great interest in the affairs of a certain colony or of a certain bill, and therefore I request to be heard at the bar of the House in opposition to this bill." That would in his opinion, be a worse precedent than the one be was prepared to recommend, and he should, therefore, agree to the motion of the hon. Member for London. The proper question to be before the House was, that the order of the day for the second reading of the bill be then read, upon which it would be open for the hon. Member, or any one who held the same opinion, to make any motion they might think proper.

Lord Stanley

agreed with the noble Lord that the present Government could not, by any possibility, have any reason to oppose the hearing of Mr. Roebuck in his character as agent of the House of Assembly. It was true that that Gentleman had been received at the Colonial-office as the agent of the House of Assembly, and the Government had given their sanction to this assumption by recognising the motion of the House of Assembly for a certain sum of money to be paid to him as such agent. The Government, therefore, could not refuse to hear him; but this argument had been rendered more necessary by the opportune protest of the hon. Member for Newark. He believed that, except the present Secretary, there never was a Colonial Secretary of State who had ever received a gentleman as the agent of a colony permanently residing in this country. He could speak for himself and for the noble Lord who had preceded him in the direction of colonial affairs (Lord Ripon), and he made this statement in the presence of a noble Lord who, at that time was Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, and who would be able to contradict him if he were wrong, M. Vigier at that time stood in precisely the same situation as Mr. Roebuck, and though he was frequently received at the Colonial-office as a person perfectly competent to speak to the affairs of the province—received just in the same manner as a body of merchants in London would have been if they wished to make any representation of their views to the Colonial Department—yet he could for his own part, and on the part of Lord Ripon, declare that they had declined to receive that gentleman as the authorised and resident agent in this country of the Canadian House of Assembly. The whole colony would have a right to complain if one individual, representing only one portion of the Legislature, should be received at the Colonial-office as agent, and authorised to speak in behalf of the colony with respect to questions on which a great difference of opinion existed among the different branches of the Legislature. In 1828, one of the objects sought for in the petition presented from the colony was, that it might be allowed to appoint an agent; and the recommendation of the Committee which sat at that period was, that the colony should be allowed to appoint by bill an agent; but, from the peculiar circumstances in which that colony had since been placed, it so happened that the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council had never been able to agree in the selection of any one individual, because they had never been able to agree on the principle, which should be represented. He had thought it necessary, therefore, to rise in support of the protest entered by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), and to declare how well judged and well timed he considered that protest to be, particularly after the statement of the noble Lord, who appeared in all respects to recognise the right of Mr. Roebuck to be heard as the agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. If he were to follow the dictates of his own judgment, he should have little difficulty, in an ordinary case, in saying, that Mr. Roebuck had no right to be heard; but, if he followed the dictates of his own feelings only, he would say, "By all means give Mr. Roebuck every possible latitude in explaining his views." But the difficulty he felt arose out of his being called on to hear Mr. Roebuck as agent for the House of Assembly. He repeated, however, that the circumstances of the case were of a peculiar nature. If the case were an ordinary one, and if it were possible to communicate the intentions of the Government in this country to the Legislature in the colony, the proper and regular course would be for the House of Assembly, or some party in the colony, to appoint an agent pro hac vice to support a petition sent from the colony, and praying to be heard by counsel. The difficulty in the present case was this, that there was no time, and there was no opportunity, for consulting the House of Assembly as to the course that body might wish to pursue. The House of Assembly would have no knowledge of the existence, perhaps, of the present Bill, before it became law, and certainly not before the second reading was passed, and the principle affirmed. He, therefore, had to make a choice between two conflicting difficulties, either of hearing Mr. Roebuck in a character to which he (Lord Stanley) could not admit that gentleman's right without a protest; or, on the other hand, of debarring a party in the colony from being heard by the mouth of the learned gentleman, who, he was bound to say, faithfully represented the views of that party composed of the majority of the members of the House of Assembly. He believed, that if circumstances allowed of the meeting of that Assembly, Mr. Roebuck would be selected by the great portion of them to support a petition from them to that House. Such being the case, he confessed that he was prepared, against his judgment in an ordinary case, and solely on account of the extraordinary and embarrassing nature of the existing circumstances, knowing, as he did, that the House of Assembly would have no opportunity to present a petition to that House previous to the second reading of the Bill, acknowledging, too, the necessity of not leaving the shadow of a pretext for saying, that even the means of protesting against the present Bill were denied to the parties, whom that House felt and believed to be in the wrong, he was prepared, he repeated, under these circumstances, to give his consent to the hearing of Mr. Roebuck. He would even wave the technical difficulty of hearing him as the agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, but he would not hear him as a matter of course, or without protesting against his right to be heard excepting as a matter of favour.

Sir G. Grey

said, that concurring in the conclusion at which the noble Lord had arrived in the latter end of his speech, he earnestly trusted that no more time would be wasted in the consideration of a question which the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) had admitted to be a very subordinate one. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet in so thinking, for he did not believe that any Gentleman, considering the circumstances of Lower Canada, and the provisions of the bill which had been brought in for its better regulation, objected to Mr. Roebuck being heard. But when the noble Lord assumed that the Government had recognised Mr. Roebuck in a different capacity from that in which Mr. Vigier had been recognised, he must be permitted to dispute the accuracy of that statement. The noble Lord said, that the Government had recognised the salary of Mr. Roebuck, but the fact was, that the Government had never recognised it as a distinct item, for it was included in the contingencies which were voted by the House of Assembly; and when the noble Lord held the seals of the Colonial-office, being then one of the confidential advisers of the Crown, the salary of Mr. Vigier was voted by the House of Assembly in the contingencies, was paid under a warrant from the governor, and was afterwards affirmed in a bill of supply. [Lord Stanley: There was no supply bill.] True, the noble Lord was correct. There had been no supply bill passed. But though the supply bill was rejected in 1833, yet the report of the Committee of 1834 contained in the dispatch of the noble Lord, advancing to the grounds on which he thought the assent to the bill should be withholden; and he had a right to assume, that every objection entertained by the noble Lord to that bill would be set forth in the despatch. Did it, then, appear by that despatch, that it had been made an objection to the bill of 1833, that it included the salary of Mr. Vigier? And if it did not so appear, was he not bound to assume, that if the bill had been submitted for the Royal Assent, the noble Lord would not have advised the Crown to withhold its assent on account of its including Mr. Vigier's salary? He took blame to himself for not having looked for the answer addressed by Lord Glenelg to Mr. Roebuck, but it was his firm conviction that at no time had Mr. Roebuck been recognised in a different manner from Mr. Vigier. The resolution of the House of Assembly appointing Mr. Roebuck its agent, gave that gentleman a claim to the courtesy of a reception at the Colonial-office; and Mr. Roebuck had never been denied an audience whenever he wished to represent the feelings of the House of Assembly, or to state anything to the head of the department which he might have thought conducive to the interests which had been intrusted to his care. Neither was the door of the Colonial-office shut against any gentleman representing any interest in Lower Canada, and the agent of any commercial interest always found ready access to Lord Glenelg, who listened to all their statements with that attention he was bound to give to the observations of individuals who, though they might have no legal title, were yet, in point of fact, known to be the representatives of a great body of people. But when it was charged against the present Government that they were about to establish an inconvenient precedent, he asked the hon. Gentleman opposite why, when the former Member for Shrewsbury brought forward, in the last Parliament, a motion expressly aimed at Mr. Roebuck, having for its object to exclude from Parliament the paid agent of any colony, the hon. Member did not then rise in his place and deny that Mr. Roebuck was the agent of the House of Assembly. At that time the House of Commons had, by admitting the fact, which by a sort of special pleading they might have denied, as fully recognised Mr. Roebuck in the character of agent as the Colonial-office ever had done. As the general feeling of the House was in favour of hearing Mr. Roebuck, it would be advisable to waste no more time in discussing what, after all, was but a question of subordinate importance.

Mr. C. Buller

understood the hon. Baronet to say, that he was unable to find Lord Glenelg's letter in consequence of the great confusion that prevailed in the Colonial-office. ["No, no!"] Well, the hon. Baronet had forgotten to bring the letter with him to the House; but he asked the hon. Baronet whether it did not run somewhat in the following terms:—"Sir,—Seeing that you do not claim to appear here as agent of the province, but as agent of the House of Assembly, I shall be happy to see you?" It was in the capacity of agent for the House of Assembly that Mr. Roebuck wished to be heard, and as everybody thought that he ought to be heard in that capacity, there was no dispute that he ought to be heard, and, consequently, he supposed the House was prepared to adopt the advice of the hon. Member for Newark, who thought that the ingenious and valuable precedent ought to be set of hearing Mr. Roebuck in his individual capacity. It appeared, then, that the House was determined to hear Mr. Roebuck, and consequently resolved to hear him in no capacity whatever. If, however, Mr. Roebuck was heard, not in his character of agent for the House of Assembly, but in his individual capacity, he saw no reason why the precedent thus set should not be followed on other occasions; and, for his part, he could say that he would rather hear Mr. Roebuck than most of the Members of that House. In conclusion, he might be permitted to say, that he was glad to hear the noble Lord declare, that he would not follow the dictates of his own judgment on this question.

Sir G. Grey

explained, that he had not made any search for Lord Glenelg's answer at the Colonial-office, and he had no doubt that, had he searched for it, he should have found it. That answer might be in the terms stated by the hon. Gentleman, but circumstances of a private nature, over which he had no control, had unexpectedly prevented his attendance at the Colonial-office that day.

Mr. Gladstone

had not recommended the House to hear Mr. Roebuck in his individual capacity, but he thought that the House might take on itself to do what it had as full a right to do as the House of Assembly, and make Mr. Roebuck an agent for the purpose of giving him a claim to be heard.

The question was carried, that Mr. Roebuck should be heard at the bar.

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