HC Deb 21 June 1907 vol 176 cc748-55

Order for the Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed— "That the Bill be now read a second time."

*MR. FORSTER (Kent, Sevenoaks)

said that in what he was about to say it must not be taken that he was expressing the opinions of those who sat on that Bench, for he was giving his own views entirely. After listening to the speech of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies in introducing the Bill there were one or two features he would like to comment upon and on which he desired to ask for further information. The Undersecretary had told them that since the Act of 1867, there had been two or more conferences between the provinces which constituted the Dominion, and that at those conferences the matters which had been settled in the Act of 1867 were discussed. Those conferences found the arrangements made in 1867 were not entirely agreeable or suitable to the provinces, and some changes were made. His first question was, if it was within the power either of the provinces or of the Dominion Government to alter the Act of 1867 without a subsequent Act of this Parliament, why was it necessary they should have this Bill which merely altered the contribution made by the Dominion Government to the provincial Governments? With reference to the exceptional treatment that British Columbia received under the Bill he would like to say a word or two. The speech of the Undersecretary for the Colonies conveyed the impression that to a certain extent British Columbia feared she would suffer injury under the arrangement agreed to by the other provinces. The Government of British Columbia were unable to accept the arrangement arrived at by the other provinces, and, in fact, there had been a considerable divergence of opinion. When one considered the enormous area of British Columbia, the difficulties of transportation, and how expensive it must of necessity be to carry on the work of Government in a country of such great size, he was not surprised that the Government of British Columbia found themselves in a difficult position with regard to the contributions from the Dominion Parliament. The area of British Columbia was about equal to the area of France and Germany combined. That gigantic territory was peopled by something under a quarter of a million. That alone showed how difficult it must be to discharge all the obligations of Government, unless adequate provision were made by which the Government could be carried on. If it were not for the fact that the population of British Columbia was loyal to the law of the land, if it were not for the fact that they were law abiding to an almost exceptional extent, he believed it would be absolutely impossibly for the Government of the country to be carried on on such a small pittance. He would like to refer to a personal experience of his own. A few years ago he was in British Columbia. It was at the time of a strike, which lasted for many months, a strike which affected a large number of working men, and of which strike there appeared to be small prospect of the conclusion. He was told that the strikers, who were inexperienced in the matter of organisation, had sought the assistance of some professional strike organisers from the United States—some of the very men, if he remembered rightly, who had been engaged in those terrible transactions which were being revealed to an astonished public in the American law courts at the present time. The strike had lasted for several months. The time arrived when it was suggested that methods of force should be employed, but to the everlasting honour of the working men of Canada, the moment there was any suggestion of force, the American organisers were boldly told that the working men of Canada did not approve of American methods of settling disputes of that kind. He was happy to say that the strike was settled by peaceful compromise. There were none of those disgraceful scenes which had been unhappily associated with strikes in the United States. Unless the population of British Columbia were essentially loyal to the law it would be impossible to carry on the administration of that country on this basis. They were not only loyal to the law, but he was happy to say they were loyal to the Empire as a whole, and because they were loyal to the Empire, and were likely to become one of the most valuable portions of the Empire, he thought they should meet with sympathetic treatment on the part of the Home Government. But in the part of British Columbia which he knew best they had not been always loyal. He remembered, fifteen years ago, he found in the remoter districts of British Columbia a very strong feeling in favour of annexation to the United States. They looked at it merely from the business point of view at the time. They found that owing to the natural configuration of the ground it was easier to trade with the United States north and south than to trade east and west with the rest of Canada. Everyone who had been in the country knew that it was cut off from the rest of the Dominion by chains of mountains, and, except for a few passes, there were no means of travel east and west. But the feeling in favour of annexation disappeared the moment there was a threatening of trouble between the United States and ourselves with reference to a question about Venezuela, The moment there was that threatening there arose then, and there existed now, and he was confident, unless we did something to forfeit it, there would continue to exist, a feeling of loyalty towards the Mother Country which merited the sympathetic treatment which the right hon. Gentleman had been able to give in this matter. He understood that the earlier drafts of the Bill contained a provision that the arrangements laid down in it were to be final and unalterable. No wonder British Columbia protested against words of that kind. How could it be laid down that an Act of that House with reference to the Dominion of Canada should be final? Who could say what the developments of the next ten years would result in? He was glad to think that the Government were able to delete the words as to the provision being final and unalterable. It might very well happen that in ten years time, when the special grant of 100,000 dollars a year which the Bill gave to British Columbia came to an end, other arrangements would have to be made—arrangements which would be arrived at by a, conference between the constituent parts of the Dominion of Canada. He only hoped that then not only the provincial point of view, but the point of view of the Dominion as a whole, would receive from the Government of that day the same kindly and sympathetic consideration which British Columbia had received at the present time.


said he was aware of the urgent necessity of this Bill, and he believed it would meet the desires expressed by the Prime Ministers of the Dominion. He could not without demur allow the hon. Member for Seven-oaks to express what he understood him to express when he said that there was a feeling in favour of annexation in the western or Pacific portion of Canada. It had been his fortune to travel much in that province and to meet many of the leading men there. He could state that there was no sign or tendency in favour of annexation, and he thought the suggestion made by the hon. Member was a little unworthy. There was no sign or tendency except that of allegiance to the Crown on the part of the people of that great province.


I specifically said that at the present time the feeling in regard to annexation had disappeared entirely. I specifically said that it existed fifteen years ago.


said he was only too happy to accept the explanation, and he apologised for having misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. There was no sign of any annexationist feeling in that province. Of all the provinces in the Dominion, no one had bettor withstood all forms of annexation pressure than the province of British Columbia. Formerly the province was cut off, as the hon. Gentleman had truly said, but no one talked of it to day as cut off from the rest of the Dominion. There was now a trans-continental line running through Canada, and two others were in course of rapid construction. The Bill, he thought, was the outcome of a conference of the nine provincial Premiers, and of communications with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister of the Dominion. With the exception of the Prime Minister of British Columbia, the Conference was unanimous in passing the resolutions embodied in the Bill now before the House. The Prime Minister of the province came to England to lay his case before the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He desired to draw the attention of the House to the fact that in these days of uneasy Imperialism these most difficult negotiations had been conducted with credit on both sides without any noise in the Press, and without allegations being made that there was on the part of His Majesty's Government any want of sympathy with British Columbia, These most difficult and complicated negotiations were conducted with sympathy and hearty goodwill, with the result that the Under-Secretary for the Colonies had been enabled to bring the Bill before the House supported by all the Prime Ministers of the Dominion, the Bill containing one provision which left a way open for future terms to be made more satisfactory to the Prime Minister of British Columbia and the people whom he had the honour to serve. In this respect the Dominion of Canada and the Prime Minister of that greatest Colony of the Crown had shown a good example in the way they had dealt with the matter among themselves and with the Home Government.


said the House was under a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for having enlightened it a little in regard to the provisions of the Bill. He could not thank the Government for having done so. They were apparently under the impression that all that it was necessary to do was to introduce a Bill, and that there was no need to explain it or to give any information about it.


Really, the hon. Member does me an injustice. I spoke for nearly a quarter of an hour in introducing the Bill under the ten-minutes rule.


said he withdrew what he had said, but would ask whether, if a Bill was introduced under the ten minutes rule, and if the right hon. Gentleman spoke for fifteen minutes, that was to be sufficient for all the stages of the Bill. He had read the Bill, and although it was apparently very simple he was at a loss to understand why British Columbia should have been singled out and given apparently an advantage which was not given to the other Provinces. He understood from what had been said by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks that British Columbia was an extremely loyal place, that the population was small, that the industries were not largely developed at present, and that that was the reason why exceptional treatment had been granted. He gathered from what was said by the hon. Member for York that the Prime Minister of British Columbia objected to the Bill as originally drawn and came over to England to have an interview with the Secretary of State. He gathered that the interview was satisfactory, and that now the Prime Minister of British Columbia was satisfied. Was that correct?


Since the Bill was introduced a great many objections have been considered. We have had the loyal assistance of the Prime Minister of British Columbia.


said that information had to be brought out little by little. He understood that the Prime Minister of British Columbia was not altogether satisfied with the proceedings in connection with the Bill. In regard to the ten years limit he would like to know whether objection was taken on behalf of the Prime Minister of British Columbia.


I did not intend to allow the Bill to pass without making any observations on it; but I thought that it would be more convenient to postpone my remarks until I could deal with any points raised during the debate. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London asked why the Bill came here at all. The British North America Act is the fundamental Act governing the Constitution of the Dominion of Canada, and the different Prime Ministers of Canada voluntarily entered into that union. Adherence to the union was something in the nature of a treaty, and when an alteration in the basis of the treaty is made, as it is by the revised schedule of subventions proposed, it was felt desirable by all the Prime Ministers in conference that such a matter should be ratified by the Imperial Parliament in the most formal way. It is only recently that an agreement has been come to by all the Provincial Prime Ministers and the Dominion Government, with the exception of British Columbia, whose needs, I admit frankly, are different from those of the other States, and require special treatment. That special treatment was accorded to her by the agreement of the other Prime Ministers, but not in such a degree as British Columbia would have wished. The objection of British Columbia was a very simple and a common one; it was that the special payment made was satisfactory as far as it went, but that it did not go far enough. The Prime Minister of British Columbia and others thought that the words "final and unalterable" should not be inserted in the Bill. It is true those words were in the Address of the Dominion Parliament but they were not inserted in the Bill by the Parliamentary draftsman on the ground that they were unusual and unsuitable in an Act of Parliament. I hope the House will realise that there is an element of urgency in the matter, as on the strength of the anticipation that this legislation will go through smoothly the Federal Government has undertaken to pay to the different Prime Ministers the revised schedule of subventions. Consequently, if the Act is not passed by 1st July, inconvenience will be caused in the framing of the Budgets in the Dominion, and I ask hon. Members for some special indulgence in passing as rapidly as possible a Bill which has nothing to do with party politics.

*SIR J. JARDINE (Roxburghshire)

said that as one with many interests in Canada he hoped the House would give a Second Reading to this Bill, which would remove possible friction between the Dominion Government and the Provincial Governments. The fact that the Prime Minister of Canada and nine of the Prime Ministers of Provinces had settled the terms of the Bill showed their high statesmanlike capacity; and it was also notable that the Prime Minister of British Columbia had soon his way to accept a compromise. The British Columbian Government objected strongly to the use of the words in the agreement "final and unalterable." They maintained, and rightly, that there was nothing in their Province absolutely final and unalterable, so vast was the area, so vigorous the growth. Two new railways were being built, opening up the far North to the Pacific shores, developments were going on in the island of Vancouver, new steamship lines were being established between Vancouver, San Francisco, and Japan, and there was a growing demand for both labour and capital from this and other countries, so immense was the natural wealth of the vast forests and the mines and ores. The Province was to be congratulated on its great prosperity, and the Bill would make for easy working between British Columbia and the other Provinces and the Central Dominion Government.

MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan)

said he supported the Bill as one who had great interest in Canada. British Columbia had had its loyalty tested by material inducements being held out to it to join the United States. He hoped his friends on that (the Opposition) side of the House would not obstruct the measure, but give it their hearty support, as it tended in the right direction. If the Prime Minister of British Columbia did not get by the Bill all that he had asked for, at any rate it should be shown that he had obtained the sympathies of the British House of Commons.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—(Mr. Churchill.)