HC Deb 07 June 1852 vol 122 cc127-31

wished to ask the Colonial Secretary whether the letter addressed to him on May 1, by the Hon. Mr. Hincks, and which was published in the Times of May 31, was authentic; and, if it was, whether he was able to give to the House any information or explanation of the circumstances under which it was written?


I can assure the hon. Baronet who has put this question to me, that so far from having any objection to answer it, I feel greatly indebted to him for having afforded me an opportunity of giving the explanation he has requested. The letter to which the hon. Baronet has adverted, is founded entirely upon a mistake. I have no knowledge how that letter found its way into the public prints; and I must say I think I have reason to express at least surprise that such a letter, forming part of a series of correspondence, should have been inserted in the newspapers of this country without any of the documents that preceded or followed it. The natural result of the insertion of such a letter in the papers, without any explanation of what preceded or followed it, has been, that most erroneous inferences have been drawn, and that very wrong impressions have gained currency with regard to the circumstances which preceded and followed the writing of that letter. It appears to me that the complaints against the conduct of the Government are three in number. The first complaint is, that the deputation which came over to this country from Canada on the subject of the proposed railway, were left for seven weeks without any answer. It is next complained that when an answer was given, it was not communicated officially to the gentlemen who formed the deputation to this country, but was obtained by them through a private channel. The third complaint is, that the gentlemen who came here as a deputation from the Provinces of Canada and New Brunswick were not treated with that consideration and confidence to which their position in their own country entitled them. Now, if the House will favour me with their indulgence for a very few moments, I think I shall be able to show how far these complaints are well founded. With regard to the first complaint, that the gentlemen forming the deputation were left for seven weeks without an answer from the Government, I must beg permission to refer to dates. Mr. Hincks arrived in this country, as a delegate from Canada on this subject about the 16th of March. Directly after his arrival, I had several interviews with him relative to the proposed railways, and in those interviews he communicated to me the views of the Province of Canada. He also stated to me that he was one of a deputation of three gentlemen, and that the arrival of Mr. Chandler, from New Brunswick, and of Mr. Howe, from Nova Scotia, might be expected by the next packet. Under these circumstances, I considered—and I think the House will deem I was justified in considering—that the negotiation was not to be proceeded with until the deputation was complete; especially as Mr. Chandler and Mr. Howe were to bring with them from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia the Act that had been passed upon this subject by the Legislatures of those Colonies. I made frequent inquiries from time to time whether those gentlemen had arrived, and I was told that they had not yet reached England, but that they might be expected by the next packet. So things went on until the 20th of April, on which day Mr. Chandler called at the Colonial Office. I believe he had arrived some few days before, but I did not know it. Mr. Howe, however, had not arrived, and I ought here to mention that the two Acts of the Colonies did not arrive till the 28th of April. On the 26th of April a letter was written by Mr. Hincks to the noble Earl at the head of the Government, requesting an interview for himself and Mr. Chandler upon this subject. I think I can show the House how little the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) was disposed to underrate the importance of this deputation, by reading to them the memorandum in the handwriting of the noble Earl at the back of Mr. Hincks's letter. It is— Give him an early appointment. This matter is one of very great importance, but I should wish, if possible, to see, together with Mr. Hincks, the representatives in this matter of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The noble Earl's Secretary made an appointment for the 30th of April, the first day on which he was able to see these gentlemen; and on that day the noble Earl received Mr. Hincks and Mr. Chandler; and at the request of my noble Friend I was present. At that interview the whole subject was talked over, and on the very next morning, the 1st of May, Mr. Hincks wrote the letter to which the hon. Baronet has referred, and in the early part of that letter Mr. Hincks says, alluding to the interview of the previous day— I left his Lordship in the confident hope that I should receive an early communication of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. Mr. Hincks then goes on to say, that the arrival of Mr. Howe could have no effect on the question of route—the only one raised by Her Majesty's Government. Mr. Howe had not then arrived, and he did not come; and this letter of Mr. Hincks, of the 1st of May, was the first intimation I received that the two other Members of the deputation considered the presence of Mr. Howe unimportant to the negotiation. I immediately proceeded to act upon that intimation, and at the Cabinet Council held on the following Saturday the 8th of May—the matter having previously, of course. formed the subject of conversation among the Government—the whole question was formally brought before the Cabinet, was fully discussed, and was finally decided. I hope the statement I have made will prove that there was no pretext whatever for saying that the deputation was left without an answer from any fault of Her Majesty's Government. It has been complained that after the Cabinet had decided the question, no communication was made to the Gentlemen forming the deputation, but that they learned the decision of the Government incidentally through a private source. Now, owing to the great pressure of business—and I trust the House will make allowance for the enormous pressure of business that did occur in the office to which I have the honour to be attached—several days elapsed after the Cabinet Council arrived at their decision before I was at leisure to prepare a despatch on the subject. In consequence of that delay, and of subsequent delays after the despatch was draughted, the despatch was not finally written for sending until the 20th of May. I should say that Mr. Hincks had previously intimated his intention not to leave England until the 27th of May, and he did not go until a much later period. On the 20th of May the despatch was sent to the Governors of the three colonies of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; and on the same day, by my directions, official copies of that despatch were communicated to Mr. Hincks and Mr. Chandler. In the meantime I had made no communication, public or private, upon this subject to any party; and if either of these Gentlemen had indirectly ascertained the decision of the Government, I cannot say how they got the information. It certainly was not through any act of mine. I hope I have answered the second allegation. I now come to the third subject, of complaint—that these gentlemen were not treated with the consideration to which their position entitled them. I should be extremely Sony if it should be thought that the Government were for a moment open to such an imputation. On the arrival of Mr. Hincks, I had several interviews with him, and I extended to him that courtesy and hospitality which I thought were due to his distinguished station in his own Province. I have been told that I ought to have resented his letter. There certainly are expressions in that letter which have the appearance of having been written under some feelings of irritation—expressions which I think are not borne out by the facts—expressions which I read with regret, and which I cannot help thinking Mr. Hincks must regret having used. But, Sir, I must say that, looking to the fact that the greater part of these letters were written in a tone perfectly respectful, I have no hesitation in avowing to the House my feeling, that if unconsciously and unintentionally, under the pressure of business, which really is sometimes almost overwhelming, I had—I am sure I am not aware that I had—been guilty of any omission towards these gentlemen, I thought it more consistent with my duty to the Queen, with my own office, and with the friendly relations which I hope will always subsist between the great colony of Canada and the mother country, that I should continue to act in the same spirit of courtesy as before, rather than go out of my way and take offence, or make any quarrel on the subject. That was the spirit in which I am disposed to act towards these gentlemen; but I would ask the House to recollect that Mr. Hincks was not the only person concerned. It would not be correct to draw any distinction between Mr. Chandler and Mr. Hincks; but Mr. Chandler has written no petulant letter. He is a gentleman distinguished by great ability, a man of high character, and one who, like Mr. Hincks, has, by the power of his own talent raised himself to the highest position in the colony. I most readily admit that these gentlemen were entitled to every consideration in this country at the hands of Her Majesty's Government, and my opinion is that they received it. I continued, to the close of their stay in this country, the same hospitality, the same courtesy, with which our intercourse commenced, and I had reason to believe they were deeply impressed by the gracious and spontaneous condescension they received at the hands of Her Majesty. At the close of their stay they called at the Colonial Office to take leave, and we parted on the most friendly terms, and certainly I had no reason to believe there was any offence taken on their part. I hope I have said enough to show that the allegation of delay on the part of the Government is unfounded, and that we were willing to treat these gentlemen with every due consideration. In offering this explanation, I have not touched on the policy of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the decision at which they arrived. The hon. Member's question did not refer to that decision, and I am sure the House will feel that the occasion of answering a question is not the proper moment of referring to such a subject. The answer given to these gentlemen was given on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government; and whenever the proper moment arrives, I shall be prepared to vindicate my share in it.