HC Deb 15 May 1849 vol 105 cc495-500

wished to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether he had received any authentic information respecting the very grave events reported by the publie papers to have occurred in Canada—whether he was prepared to lay that information on the table—and also whether the Government were now in possession of extracts from the votes and proceedings of the Legislative Assembly in Canada relating to the Bill of Indemnity for losses sustained by the rebellion? On a former occasion the noble Lord, when asked this latter question, informed the House that Ministers were not in possession of those votes and proceedings; and the answer was made in a manner conveying an intimation that it was not usual for them to receive such extracts. Her Majesty's Ministers, however, by Her Majesty's command, had, he believed, in more instances than one, laid such extracts upon the table; but, certainly, in one recent instance, upon the subject of the navigation laws.


begged to add another question to these. The Bill of Indemnity was necessarily a Money Bill, and, therefore, the Earl of Elgin must, he supposed, have had instructions from the Home Government before any step was taken by the Parliament of Canada with respect to it. A message must have gone down from the Governor General to the Parliament, giving them authority to enter upon the consideration of the matter. Now, was the noble Lord cognisant of any instructions given to the Earl of Elgin to give that previous sanction to the Motion being made in the Parliament, thus showing that the Government at home and the Superior Government in Canada sanctioned this indemnity being given to the parties, before the Parliament of Canada could proceed upon the Bill?


With respect to the very serious events that have occurred at Montreal, I have to state in answer to the first question of the right hon. Gentleman, that a despatch has been received from the Governor General of Canada, directed to the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department; that despatch, however, was only received at four o'clock this day. I have not myself seen the despatch, but it is a public document containing an account of the disturbances at Montreal, and there will be no objection to laying it immediately upon the table of this House. With respect to the next question of the right hon. Gentleman, and with regard, likewise, to the question of the hon. Member who has spoken after him, I will only say that the Earl of Elgin has stated that it his intention to write by the next mail a despatch stating all the occurrences that have relation to the Bill for an. indemnity for losses; and that despatch, of course, may be expected by the next mail. I do not think—I would not be positive upon that point, but I do not think—he has sent home the extract from the votes and proceedings of the House of Assembly; but I conclude those votes will be received when the despatch is sent, and in that case there will be no objection to laying the despatch and those proceedings before this House. In these circumstances, having that assurance from the Earl of Elgin, that he is about to state all that has occurred, and the reasons which in his opinion have justified him in assuming the responsibility which he has assumed in the exercise of his functions, I must decline entering further into the particulars of this matter, or answering the question put to me by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. I think it is far better that we should wait until the Earl of Elgin has had an opportunity of stating the case, and that I should have an opportunity of laying before the House the whole account of what has occurred in Canada with respect to these very serious matters.


had not asked the question from an idea that there had been any deviation either from the ordinary practice or from the orders that had been sent out. He merely wanted to ask the noble Lord whether he was cognisant of any such necessarily preceding recommendation as he had referred to, namely, that the Canadian Parliament could not, without a preceding suggestion or permission on the part of the Government, have taken any steps regarding this Bill; and that the Earl of Elgin must have previously received his instructions from the Colonial Office in a specific and distinct form. The noble Lord did not know, and therefore he (Mr. Roebuck) could not expect from him an answer; but such must have been the case, and all he had asked was whether the noble Lord was cognisant of the circumstance.


could only repeat that he thought it would be much better to have the whole case, with the papers, before them before they entered into these questions.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had made an inquiry which he thought he would scarcely have done had he been in that House on the 22nd of March last. On that day the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies, in reply to two questions put to him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford spoke as follows:— In answer to the first question of the right hon. Gentleman he had to state that no instructions whatsoever were given to the noble Lord at the head of the Canadian Government with reference to the introduction of this Bill, or in contemplation of any such measures. His noble Friend (Earl Grey) had entire confidence in the noble Lord the Governor General's judgment and discretion, and was not in the habit of giving him instructions of that kind. With regard to the second question of the right hon. Gentleman, who had himself filled the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies, he had to state that all colonial laws—he believed universally—having passed through their formal stages, and received the assent of the Crown through Her Majesty's representative in the colony, came into immediate operation, unless they contained a suspending clause. This would apply, of course, to all Acts, whether they were for the appropriation of money or not."* That was a distinct answer to the inquiry now made by the hon. Member for Sheffield; and, at a moment of great public interest like the present, it would be satisfactory to them to understand that they had authentic information to so late a date as the 22nd of March.


had not put this question to the Under Secretary for the Colonies, because he was not in his place, and he concluded that hon. Gentleman had not received a letter which he had sent him in the course of the day. As the hon. Gentleman had now taken his seat, however—[Mr. Hawes had entered just before]—he would take the liberty of repeating the question. They had all been made acquainted with the painful circumstances that had occurred at Montreal. These circumstances originated in the consent given by the Governor General to a Bill passed through the Legislature of Canada for giving remuneration to certain parties who had suffered loss during the last rebellion. This he understood from the nature of the case, was a Money Bill, and must have come immediately and directly from the Canadian Ministry; it must have been preceded by an instruction and recommendation from the Governor General to give their assent to the measure. He would not enter further into the circumstances; he did not impute blame to any one, for he would rather defend than impute blame; but he wanted to know from the hon. Gentleman whether there had been sent from the Colonial Office—as was ordinarily the case—a power to the Governor General to recommend to the Ministry there acting in Her Majesty's name to go down to the Canadian Assembly, and state that She sanctioned *Hansard (Third Series), Vol. ciii., p. 1125. the appropriation of money to the express purposes of the Bill which had excited these disturbances? At the proper time he should be able to explain. [Cries of"Order!"] He would bow to the rule of the House; but he only wished to say, that if the hon. Gentleman answered the question, they would be satisfied as to the parties on whose back the responsibility should fall.


I shall certainly decline entering further into this matter. As to the question put by the hon. Gentlemen the Member for Buckinghamshire, the answer given upon a former occasion by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies is perfectly correct in point of fact.


I beg to say that I received the note of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, and I have to thank him for giving me notice of the question. I sent it to my noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office, in order that my noble Friend at the head of the Government might be enabled to answer the question.


asked whether in the despatch which the noble Lord had mentioned, there was any reference to a petition from a large and respectable assemblage at Montreal, praying that the Earl of Elgin should be recalled, and that the Queen should withhold Her assent from the Indemnity Bill? Also whether any petitions to the same effect had been received from other parts of Canada?


had seen his noble Friend the Colonial Secretary that morning, but no such petition had then been received, and whether any had arrived since four o'clock he was not aware. He had, however, seen in the newspapers some account of such a meeting being held as had been referred to by the hon. Gentleman.


asked whether the Government had received such information as might lead them to hope that the disturbances had been put down?


had to say, in reply, that the Governor General stated that on the 30th Montreal was tranquil. There had been some disturbances in the provinces, but he believed the provinces might also now be considered as tranquil.


Is it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to increase the forces in Canada? For instance, to send out the Guards, or some of the other troops? Is it intended to strengthen the hands of the Executive, and to secure the person of the Viceroy from anything like personal insult or attack?


There certainly does not appear to me to be the least reason for sending additional forces to Canada at present. I believe there is quite sufficient force to protect the Governor General; though I am told that the civil force of Montreal consists of two constables only.

Subject dropped.