HC Deb 25 July 1862 vol 168 cc843-51

said, he wished, before the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War rose to reply to the question that had been put to him, to make a few observations upon a most important subject. He could not but think that it was most desirable that Parliament should not separate without some distinct statement being made of the intentions of the Government as to the defence of Canada. It was their right and duty, as it was the right and interest of the Canadians themselves, to know what were the intentions of the Government in view of the possible if not probable danger of invasion to which they were exposed during the approaching winter. In the first place, he would wish to know whether the Government considered that Canada was exposed to any danger. If not, why were 12,000 British troops retained in that colony. If, on the other hand, in their opinion there was danger, to what did they look for defence against that danger? The noble Lord at the head of the Government had on recent occasions strongly urged upon the House the duty of protecting this country against invasion; but in respect to Canada, which was far more vulnerable, he had not urged any precautions either in this country or in the colony. At the commencement of last winter an extraordinary number of British troops were sent out in great haste to meet an apprehended danger, and to enable Canada to prepare her own means for self-defence. There was no Quixotic intention to defend Canada by means of forces sent from this country, nor to exempt the Canadians from military service; but the aid was sent to assist and to encourage them in preparing their own means of defence. He had taken some pains to ascertain when there had last been any understanding between this country and Canada as to the relative part each should take in defending the province in case of foreign invasion. The latest and most authentic understanding of that nature which he had found was set forth in the despatches of the Colonial Secretaries between 1851 and 1854. In 1851 Earl Grey, writing to Lord Elgin, said— Canada now has self-government; which ought to carry with it corresponding responsibilities; the time is come for her to be called upon to take a larger share of her expenses. Her rapid progress in wealth and population makes it only due to the people of this country that they should be relieved from the charge imposed on them for the protection of a colony so well able to do much towards protecting itself. In this I am only reverting to the former colonial policy of this country. Up to the American Revolution the British colonies took the principal share of the burden of their own protection, and contributed to the military operations undertaken to extend the possessions of the Crown. Her Majesty's Government would have thought it right at an earlier period to revert to this policy in Canada but for commercial difficulties thrown in her way by British legislation. That has passed away.. … Canals have opened up the country on loans raised on the credit of the British Treasury. In future the troops maintained in Canada will be confined to the garrisons of Quebec and Kingston, and the maintenance of the canals, cut at the expense of this country, will be thrown on the provinces. The Duke of Newcastle went further. He stated that in future a single regiment of infantry and two companies of artillery would be all the force sent from England. In 1854 the right hon. Gentleman now the Home Secretary wrote to Sir Edmund Head that there was a necessity for a clear understanding being come to, and that— Should an invasion of Canada by foreign Powers occur, the most Valuable aid to reinforcements supplied from this country would be afforded by an organized militia, such as her great population might now supply. No one could deny that those views were correct views. It was laid down that a colony like Canada should maintain her own internal order in time of peace, and that when foreign war threatened her, the forces of the empire should rally in aid of the colonial forces. It was not for this country to exempt the Canadians from military service. It would be indeed astonishing that the eastern quarter of the empire should maintain an army, but that the western, reversing the usual order of things, should assume an oriental languor, and leave the centre of the empire to defend it. Canada could not plead poverty as an excuse for not taking the proper means to provide for her own defence. Neither did he think that the Canadians could say, what had been said for them, that the danger of last winter arose from English policy, and did not concern Canada. Surely Canada was affected by an insult to the British flag, that waved over the navy which gratuitously protected her, and in whose glory she participated without shedding a drop of her own blood. Nor can the Canadians deny the necessity to arm while they hug the reinforcements which represent that necessity, and which alone give them any feeling of security. When the troops were sent out in haste last winter, the noble Lord at the head of the Government expressed his belief in the patriotic spirit of the Canadians, and said the British troops were sent out to afford them time to develop their own powers of defence. But the expectation of the noble Lord had been disappointed. The colonists acknowledged that there was danger by the eagerness with which they hailed the arrival of the Imperial troops. But how did they express that feeling in action? They had done nothing. We, on our part, had shown our appreciation of the emergency by raising the number of our troops in the colony from a single regiment of infantry and two companies of artillery to 12,000 men. They had a militia of about 5,000 men, who were under drill six days in the year. Before the Select Committee which sat lately on the subject, the Duke of Newcastle said he was astonished to find that the Canadian militia constituted so small a force, and another official witness said that small as it was in number, it was still less in efficiency. By way of meeting the late emergency, however, the Canadians had added 5,000 more, increasing also the number of days of drill from six to twelve, reducing, however, the pay one-half. Thus they had shown us their appreciation of the danger and their opinion as to the extent of their own duty in meeting it. Their own Commission had stated that at least 100,000 organized and armed militia were necessary; and their own late Ministry proposed the organization and embodiment of a force of 50,000. The Governor General, Lord Monck, the other day at Montreal, had made a speech distinguished by manly sentiments and moderate language, saying as much as he could say under the circumstances, and telling the Canadians that they must prepare to take some share of their own defence, and that it would be impossible for this country any longer to consent to their contributing nothing, in either purse or person, towards the security of their frontier. There was never, probably, any occasion in which the governor of a free country had addressed in such terms the rich inhabitants of that country. The noble Lord at the head of the Government said, the other day, that though they had only 10,000 militia, all the Canadians were liable to be called out in case of emergency. That seemed to satisfy the noble Lord, and such an assertion of readiness and vigour in a colony excited a cheer in this House. But was that the way in which England had prepared herself against threatened invasion when Napoleon's camp was formed at Boulogne; or more recently, when it was only thought possible that her shores might be attacked? Was that the way in which the old English colonies defended themselves when they resisted, from their own resources, the arms of France and Spain, and never dreamed of asking for any English reinforcements, but resented the offer of interference? It was rather an Hibernian phrase to talk about sending reinforcements to Canada, because there was really nothing to reinforce; and things had come to a strange pass when the House cheered the statement that a prosperous part of the empire had expressed their conviction that they were in danger, declared that they should be glad to receive reinforcements, but, as to themselves, it was enough that they were liable to be called out. Why, what people on earth were not liable to be called out in case of invasion? If an enemy actually kicked their doors down, they must come out; but the question was, whether such a mere liability was worth anything by way of defence. The House of Commons deceived both themselves and the Canadians by flattering the colonists, as though the statement of that liability were any proof of vigour, or any guarantee for the security of their country. The question excited much interest, and there was hardly a newspaper which had not lately taken it up. A correspondent of The Times, who signed himself "Canadian," and undertook to represent Canadian feeling, expressed great surprise that this country was dissatisfied, and stated the principle which he thought ought to guide the relations between the Home Government and the colony. What that gentleman understood was, that Canada should assist in keeping internal order in time of peace, but that the duty of resisting foreign invasion should be undertaken by the forces of the empire. In submitting that proposition, he did not see, that if Canada was a part of the empire, Canadian forces ought to constitute part of the forces of the empire. When there was anything to be got out of England, he argued the claims of Canada as a part of the empire; but when invasion was to be resisted by the forces of the empire, England alone was meant. Warming with his subject, the writer then boldly compared the present preparations of Canada with those of this country, and said that a militia of 10,000 men in proportion to her population would be equivalent to 110,000 men raised in England. Had he the audacity or the ignorance to institute any comparison between the 10,000 militia drilled twelve days in a year, their arms and ammunition being supplied at the expense of this country, with the regular army, the militia, the volunteers, and the navy of England? That only showed how completely the Canadians misunderstood their position, and the relations existing between the two Governments, and how little thanks we were likely to get even if we could undertake their defence for them. The Mayor of Montreal spoke out more honestly after the dinner at which Lord Monck was present. Illustrating the old adage, In vino veritas, he said— Canada might esteem itself a most fortunate community in being protected by one of the most powerful nations in the world, which sent them as many as might be required of ships and redcoats without rendering them liable in purse or person. No matter how many redcoats, the more the better, if they took not a single sou out of their pockets. Such were the magnanimous sentiments of the Major of Montreal, after Lord Monck had tried to rouse a patriotic feeling among the rich inhabitants of that city. Certainly, if anybody wished to preserve the connection between the colony and the mother country, he should not lose a moment in trying to replace their present rotten relations by something more genuine and more substantial. Depend upon it, that mutual deception, though it might get them over the next few months or years, would vanish at the first moment of trial. No such relations could stand the test of an actual emergency, and one of two courses must be taken. If the English Government had made up their minds to undertake the defence of Canada by troops sent from and paid by this country, the number of troops in the colony must be increased immensely. Even if the present extraordinary number were quadrupled, the force would still be a most inadequate one for such an undertaking. But who would undertake to defend, with any amount of forces, a country which would not defend itself? As matters stood, we were in a most critical position with regard to Canada. It was an utter impossibility to defend the colony with 12,000 British troops. To suppose otherwise was only to deceive ourselves as well as the Canadians. If invasion came, the loss of Canada was absolutely certain, and that was not all. We should lose our troops, should bring upon ourselves disgrace and disaster, and then involve the country, on a point of honour, in a hopeless war without an object. What was the other course open? That which Lord Grey recommended the other day in another place—namely, that not a moment should be lost in causing the Canadian Parliament distinctly to understand that it must reconsider its refusal of internal defence and institute more valid preparation, or before winter the British troops which had been sent to aid the formation of their militia should return to England. In that respect Lord Grey did not speak without experience; for when Australia formerly would not listen to the proposal to pay a portion of the expenses of the British troops there, he had himsalf, as Colonial Minister, let it be known that the troops would be immediately ordered to return home. The consequence was that the people of Australia immediately came into the terms first proposed by England; and there could be no doubt, that the embarkation of the first British regiment for the purpose of returning from Canada to England, would make Canada take a very different view on this question. The Canadians could not decently complain, for it would be only taking them on their own plea of the non-necessity of arming. He should have liked, had circumstances permitted, to move an Address to the Queen, praying her to send instructions to the Governor General of Canada, to call together again the Canadian Parliament, and submit to the members measures of better preparation, making them clearly to understand, that in the event of such measures not being adopted, the British troops in Canada would be recalled; but he felt that it would be absolutely useless for him, within five or six days of the prorogation, to offer any such proposition to the House. However, to prevent the country being left in the dark on the subject, his only alternative was to raise a late discussion, and to throw the whole responsibility of what might happen in the winter on the noble Lord at the head of the Government. The present state of things could only last, he believed, till trial came; and if an emergency occurred during the approaching winter, Canada would be inevitably lost to this country. If no emergency occurred, the connection might last in mutual deception for some time longer; but whenever the trial came, the separation of Canada in its present condition from this country was inevitable, and would, if Ministers only chose to trust to the chapter of accidents for the crisis, be attended with bitter feelings and disastrous consequences. He therefore called on the noble Lord at the head of the Government to state what were his intentions. Let the noble Lord treat the case in a dignified way; and if he really meant that the loss of Canada was not to be cared for, he should boldly let the Canadians know that in time; so that amicable arrangements might be made on both sides for the interests of Canada and for the honour of this country. But if the noble Lord agreed with him that the severance of Canada from this country would be a mutual misfortune, and that abandonment of empire should not be contemplated by him as a Minister of the Crown, there was no time to be lost in removing every obstacle to the formation of a sufficient basis of local defence.


said, he substantially agreed with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, but he differed from him respecting the course which ought to be pursued. He did not think it would be advisable to adopt the course recommended by Earl Grey and send out instructions to Canada, declaring that unless the Canadians took steps for organizing an adequate militia the Imperial troops would be withdrawn from that country; for such a course might be taken as a sort of dictation to the Canadian Parliament. He thought they ought to avoid all appearance of dictation towards the Canadian Parliament. No doubt the Militia Bill it had passed was one that in the opinion of every person in this country who had paid attention to the subject was wholly inadequate; but if he were a member of the Canadian Parliament, though he might feel ashamed of that Bill, he might hesitate to obey an edict of the Imperial legislature. It appeared to him most important that the executive Government at home should rather take a line of dignified inaction on this subject, giving the Canadian Parliament an opportunity of reconsidering what it had done in respect to that miserable Militia Bill, which it had passed. In his belief, the Canadian Parliament did not represent the Canadian people on that matter, and he should like that people to have a practical opportunity of expressing their opinion. This was not so much a question for the taxpayers of this country as for the safety of the Canadians themselves; and the time would shortly come when they would see, that if this country were able to send out to Canada 50,000 or 60,000 troops, that force would be useless for the defence of the frontier, unless it was backed by a strong and numerically sufficient militia. Still, if an edict were sent out to the Canadian Parliament to reconsider its ways, and it refused to alter its determination, the home Government would be placed in an absurd and ridiculous position. The House of Commons had recently passed a resolution declaring that the Imperial Government would protect the colonies against all perils to which they might be exposed in consequence of Imperial policy. Now the British troops in Canada were sent to protect the Canadians against the consequences of Imperial policy; and unless those perils had passed away, it was almost impossible for any Government at home to recall the troops; or if they recalled them, they might have to send them back again. Therefore, it was very desirable that the Government should act with great deliberation in this matter. It was quite obvious that to raise 10,000 militia, who were to be called out for six days in the year, was a measure by no means adequate to the exertions which England was making for the defence of Canada by the aid of taxes drawn from a people who were suffering under a special degree of pressure. At the same time, the opposition to the Canadian Government did not prove that there was any unwillingness to provide a proper militia. It had been brought about by one of those political combinations which were not unknown in the mother country, and it was simply an opposition to an unpopular government, which had been jobbing in every direction, and which deserved to be opposed. He (Mr. A. Mills) agreed that the present cost of protecting Canada was something quite monstrous. This very year the mother country would be paying something like £1,250,000 for that purpose. It was time that an end should be put to the system of nursing up our colonies in a state of reliance upon the resources of the mother country. It was manifest, that if ever we become entangled in a quarrel with America, when we had at the same time a mutiny in India, or a Russian war, or when we were menaced on the Continent, it would be utterly impossible for us to pour into Canada a force sufficient to meet the troops which, with the railway system in operation in the United States, might be brought against them. As an owner of property in Canada, he should feel that the safety for it to be derived from assistance from the mother country would be as nothing compared with the security which the establishment of a local force numerically and in point of efficiency capable of defending its own territory would confer.