HC Deb 11 May 1857 vol 145 cc107-8

, who had presented a petition of the Merchants of St. John's, Newfoundland, praying the House not to assent to give effect to a convention with France, said, he rose to put a question, of which he had given notice, to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies. He had lately seen a statement in the public newspapers to the effect that, in deference to the very strong objections which were entertained by the Colonial Legislature of Newfoundland to the proposed Convention between Her Majesty's Government and the Emperor of the French upon the subject of the Newfoundland fisheries, it was the intention of the Government not to proceed further with that Convention. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that report was correct; and if so, whether he would have any objection to make a public statement to that effect? and also whether Her Majesty's Government had made any communication to the French Government upon the subject?


said, he would state exactly what had taken place in the case; but he wished, first of all, to say, that he felt obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having asked the question, because he had reason to believe that considerable misapprehension had prevailed in the public mind with respect to what had actually taken place in this matter, and the position in which it at present stood. The right hon. Gentleman was aware that questions of a very complicated and embarrassing nature had arisen between the Governments of England and France with regard to fishery rights of the latter country in the waters of Newfoundland, and that these questions arose out of treaties. The two Governments had for several years attempted to arrive by negotiation at a satisfactory solution of the questions, and the Government of this country had also been in constant communication with the colonial authorities upon the point; but unfor- tunately those communications and negotiations had never led to any satisfactory result. At length an attempt had been made by Her Majesty's Government to arrive at a termination of the difficulty by taking another course; and having had all the facts of the case before them, they had thought the best chance they could have—for it was but a chance—of coming to a resolution that would be satisfactory to the two Governments, was to conclude a convention with France without any previous communication with the colony, while an express stipulation should be inserted in that convention that it should have no effect unless it should be ratified by the colonial legislature. Such a convention had been framed and sent over to Newfoundland; but he was sorry to say, that the result had been that the colony had most unequivocally refused to adopt it, and it had, therefore, of course, become inoperative. Some excitement had undoubtedly prevailed at first in the colony upon the subject from an apprehension that an intention had been formed of over-riding the deliberate opinion of the colonial legislature by the action of the Imperial Parliament. But such an intention had in reality never existed, and that misapprehension having been removed, he was happy to be able to say that by the last accounts he had received from Newfoundland, the Executive Council of the colony had expressed their entire satisfaction with the course which Her Majesty's Government had taken in the matter, and with the respect which had been shown for their constitutional rights and privileges. With regard to the future intentions of the Government, all he could say was, that they would take advantage of any opening which might present a chance of bringing these embarrassing questions to a satisfactory conclusion. On the other hand, however, he would never be a party to any proceeding which could tend to compromise or surrender the rights of the people of Newfoundland, without the full approval and assent of that community, as expressed by their legislature. He had only to add, that it was his intention to lay before the House papers which would show in detail the course which these transactions had taken.