HC Deb 04 June 1886 vol 306 cc1015-6
MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If his attention has been called to the lecture delivered at the Royal United Service Institution on May 31st by Captain J. C. R. Colomb, R.M.A., upon Imperial Federation, Naval and Military; and, whether Her Majesty's Government still declines to take advantage of the exceptional opportunity afforded by the welcome presence at this time in London of many leading statesmen and representatives of our brethren of Greater Britain to hold a conference under official auspices, even without a definite pre-arranged plan of federation, upon the possibility of establishing a closer union between the Mother Country and the other dominions of the British people for the imperial purposes of the defence of the Empire, the extension of the interchange of commerce, and the regulation of Foreign affairs?

THE FIRST LORD (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE) (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

In reply to the Question of the hon. Member, I have to state that those whose duty it has been to consider matters of this kind do not think that the Colonial Exhibition offers a very favourable opportunity for the examination of a great political and Constitutional question affecting the Colonies. The examination of such a question, instituted or promoted by voluntary effort, might probably be useful—at any rate, I do not see what inconvenience could attend it—but, promoted by the Government, it would be a serious affair; and there is not at present, as I am informed, in this country a single Prime Minister, nor even any Member of a Cabinet of any Colony which is under a responsible Government, I must say that I think, under these circumstances, the suggestion that the Government should promote a discussion of this kind upon its own responsibility in the absence of all such persons is not a very happy suggestion. That, I confess, is my opinion. Important proposals, I am informed, are at present under the consideration of the Australian Colonial Governments, in conjunction with the Admiral of the Station, for the establishment of United, Imperial, and Colonial action for defensive purposes; but no general scheme for the objects mentioned in the concluding part of the hon. Member's Question has met with acceptance in the Colonies down to the present time.


I would venture, with the permission of the right hon. Gentleman, to ask him if he is aware that Sir Alexander Stewart, lately Prime Minister of New South Wales, who sent the Australian Contingent to the Soudan, is now in London; that Mr. Service, long Premier of Victoria, the pioneer of Australasian Federation, the Right Hon. Sir John Macdonald, Premier of Canada, and the founder of the British North American Confederation, and the Hon. Gordon Sprigg, the distinguished statesman of Cape Colony, are shortly expected?


Sir, I am not struck with the great felicity of the idea of inviting a combination of late Prime Ministers. They are gentlemen who are in an unfortunate position, as I myself have been on more than one occasion, and possibly may be again. I hardly think they are the best possible persons to appear here as the Representatives of the present polities of their respective countries. They may be excellent Representatives, and it may be my slowness of conception; but I confess that the notion does not commend itself to me on the first view.