§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the statement made on behalf, of His Majesty's Government of the acceptance in principle of the right of Newfoundland to self-government; and urges His Majesty's Government to give effect to such approval by taking the necessary preliminary action as soon as practicable.I regret that I have to start with a bit of a grumble. The statement made by the Under-Secretary the last time we discussed Colonial matters was so mixed up with the general Debate as to lose its effectiveness. I have had cuttings from newspapers in Newfoundland which show that they are puzzled as to what happened, and that they have missed altogether the force and significance of that statement. I have called attention on other questions to the way this Government do the right thing in the wrong way, and thereby lose what credit it should have had and spoil the whole picture. This Debate may serve to put matters right on the other side. They commented over there on the fact that the three Members of the Mission appeared to be absent, and that other people who have shown an interest in Newfoundland affairs also appeared to be absent. They did not know that that discussion was spatchcocked into a Debate of an entirely different nature.
My colleagues and I have decided, particularly in view of the fact that we have less time than we expected, to divide between us the statement about our Mission which is, in fact, our report to the House. I am especially charged with what I will call the constitutional aspect. There are one or two preliminary statements which I want to make, which at first may appear irrelevant to the report of the Mission and to the Motion now before us, but as the Debate proceeds I think Members will see that the past history of Newfoundland accounts very much for the position existing there at present. Until we apprehend 1744 that, we are likely to take a mere superficial view, exactly as one would in the case of any other State. The island was discovered in 1497. It was not until 1583 that it was formally taken possession of by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in the name of this country. That meant that England had adopted her first child and the British Empire had begun. Then followed a long period of neglect—one might call it child neglect, or parental forgetfulness—which accounts very largely for the disposition of the population of the island. For more than a century and a half the original fisherfolk and settlers were not allowed to settle in the country, and, with a stubbornness born of their English blood, they maintained their position in little groups all around the island. That accounts to-day for the economic and constitutional situation. It would be well for hon. Members to keep those facts in mind, because they have a bearing on the situation that we discovered. In reporting on our work, at first I felt a little dubiety over the fact that three separate reports had been drawn up by us, and, may I say, without consultation with each other and without discussion, except in the sense that we discussed these matters with the same people. That adds more to the value of the fact that on the broad basis of the reports we have submitted there is very little disagreement: there is slight disagreement on matters of detail, but on fundamental matters we are in accord.
The Mission set about its work in unconventional and unorthodox manner. We did not sit in any central building in the capital, nor did we, wherever we went, sit in state and ask the people who ordinarily do such things to come and give evidence. We went to the people themselves, after having got our bearings and found out the distribution of people and interests. So we had a somewhat unique experience, I imagine, for a Mission representing Parliament. The very fact that travelling facilities in the country are so poor made our work very much more difficult than it otherwise would have been. While we travelled just over 3,000 miles, I hope I shall be understood when I say that that represents three or four times that amount of travel in any other country with ordinary facilities. Outside the Avalon Peninsula, there is hardly any train service, and what there is is not taken too seriously: it is no good making appointments, or hoping to be anywhere 1745 by a certain date or a certain time. Also, the great shortage of roads makes travelling very difficult and very slow. So for a large part of the year, in the worst season of the year, people in different parts of the island are cut off from each other. There is little or no means of communication such as we are used to. If we do not get these facts into our minds, we lose sight of the difficulties which confronted the Mission and which now confront the Government.
We took our evidence and interviewed people on wharfsides, in sheds, on one occasion in a churchyard, in school halls, and more particularly in stores, because we found that the thing to do—there are no shops outside St. John's, in the way we understand them—was to go into a store and talk to the first person we met. Thus the grape vine telephone worked: things began to sink in. So we managed to get evidence, apart from anything we did of a formal character. My hon. and gallant Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer A. Herbert) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) came into contact especially with those who had served in the Forces in the last war and people of that sort, while I addressed a conference of the Labour people. Also, we were guests at a dinner at which every Labour representative on the island was invited and was present. They were the only gatherings of what I would call a formal kind, but they were important and helped us to make the necessary contacts. That, briefly, is the method on which we conducted our inquiries.
I propose to deal especially with the constitutional position. The difficulty we were up against was that nobody seemed to know quite what he wanted. Everybody had a vague idea—which was a good one—that he wanted to return to some form of self-government, but exactly what it was he did not know, except that he did not want to return to the position which existed just before the Commissioners were appointed.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Does my hon. Friend mean that with reference to the Squires Government, or with reference to the form of government?
§ Mr. Ammon
Of course, it had reference to the Government, but they also said, "We do not want him, and we do not 1746 want him," indicating that all the remnants of that Government had not disappeared, and that they did not want to be burdened with them again. That they expressed in no uncertain language. There were three or four alternatives which cropped up in discussion. There can be no question of any challenge whatever to the claim for responsible and representative government. The only dispute which might arise is as to how it should be given, and the appropriate time. If I may quote the Apostle Paul:All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient.There was the question of the return to what they call responsible government, and there was the question of the continuance of the Commission Government. Some people had ideas of linking up with Canada, and some of linking up with the United States; that last suggestion found very few supporters, but it had its genesis in the fact that for the time the island is enjoying unexampled prosperity. That is largely brought about by the United States naval bases and military camps, and other places which they have built. These have brought much money to the Newfoundlanders and plentiful employment: no fewer than 20,000 persons have been engaged therein. These people, forgetting their past history, are beginning to think that if they link up with the United States that sort of thing was going to continue. The Mission were quite clear that they could dismiss that anyway as a serious proposition. Then there is the question of linking up with Canada. There is a large number of people who want that, but an overwhelming number who are against it. I think that the Mission are right—although I may speak with prejudice in saying that—in thinking that that is a matter which can be decided only by Newfoundland, not a matter which can be imposed upon Newfoundland from here in any way. That brings me to the question started by the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) of a system similar to that of Northern Ireland. It was felt that the long distances separating us and a variety of other considerations put that out of the question altogether.
We are left with two issues, either to restore responsible Government or to try to find a middle course and to approach it in steps. You cannot isolate the constitutional position from the economic posi- 1747 tion, and that is something which I hope the House will keep clearly in mind all through these discussions. Just now Newfoundland is enjoying a period of prosperity such as it has not known since the last war, but the fact that it also enjoyed prosperity during the last war and was afterwards plunged into the depths of misery and poverty should make us very careful how we view the position in this connection. There is more than one factor which has led to that prosperity, but the dominating one consists of the United States air bases and the military encampments that have been built there and also of Canada with its air bases. We cannot ignore the fact that both Iceland and Norway have been out of business as far as fishing is concerned, and that also is bound to have its effect. We find there reasons for Newfoundland's prosperity, but as the possibility of war begins to recede from the far West, so we can see that prosperity will recede, and already the peak of the prosperity period has passed.
Now will begin the period of declension. It is essential that steps be taken as soon as possible to prevent Newfoundland entering the terrible depths of depression at the time when the people had only an allowance of 3d. a day, or not more than 2s. a week at the outside, to assist them over that period. A few of the clergy and priests we met out there told us how acute was the hunger. That factor has to be taken into consideration when we consider the problems concerned with regard to the Constitution. Differing only a trifle as to the period of time for development, the Mission have arrived at the idea that there must be a compromise position for a time between commission government and that of responsible government. They have suggested to the Department that Commissioners should be nominated from this side and that those from the other side should be elected by a general franchise of the country, so by that means we could begin to bring them into some knowledge and use of the franchise to which they have been unused for some time.
There is strong criticism of the Commission of Government; nobody can deny that. At the same time a good deal of it arises because of the manner in which they were first appointed and the difficulties 1748 under which they have laboured since, some of their own making. The Commission of Government was appointed at the request of the Parliamentary Government of Newfoundland itself.
§ Mr. Ammon
That is how they came to be appointed. Following on from that, there was also the period when the world was in a bad state economically, about the period of the May Report. That also made it difficult and probably accounted for the way in which the Commission was appointed. I believe that in better times that Government would have been differently constituted. We sent out three civil servants from this country with all the qualities and all the weaknesses of the Civil Service. They were honest, hardworking and took great care in discharging their duties faithfully and well, but with not much understanding of getting into contact with the public or public opinion. They made two very bad mistakes at the kick-off. Important as some economic things are, if you injure national sentiment you cut very much more deeply than anything else. Almost the first thing that was done was to close the Colonial building, which had been the Parliament House since 1855, and to abolish its insignia and the symbols of Parliament, at once creating the impression that it was the intention of the Government on this side to wipe out every possibility of a return to responsible government. One cannot characterise that as other than rather a stupid thing to do. In addition, on the grounds of economy they swept away their national museum and nobody knows where the contents are distributed—little things, the House may say, but they are rather important in the life of a nation. But they did other things for which they have received no credit. They lacked what the hon. and gallant Member who seconds the Amendment does not lack—a sense of publicity and a way of "getting across" to the country what they were doing and what they intended. One did not know what they had actually done by way, of improvement, but as a matter of fact they had introduced hospitals which were not there before. They had started a welfare service and a few other things which were not very spectacular but were of wide importance to the nation itself. I have by a happy coincidence a cutting, received as 1749 late as last night, sent to me from St. John's—it is from one of the principal newspapers, "The Evening Telegram,' of 6th December—and I will read the following extract:While without doubt more could have been expected of Commission of Government in bringing about a better balanced economy, it cannot be claimed that when affairs were in our own control much attention was given to such matters. Administration after administration chose to tolerate in the salt cod industry the pernicious system of tal qual which encouraged shiftlessness in the curing of the country's main product. Such was the lack of insistence upon the quality of the exports that the markets for Newfoundland salt fish, Newfoundland lobsters and Newfoundland herring dwindled. Such was the indifference to the need for protection of the game life that such animals as the caribou were all but exterminated. So little regard was paid to the value of the timber and water power resources that they were disposed of to speculators for next to nothing. Although there was crying need for improved medical facilities, outside St. John's there was not a single hospital, with the exception of those provided by the Grenfell Institute and the Twillingate Memorial largely maintained by the people of the North-East coast. Even when conditions were at their worst, evidence of venality in public life was, not lacking.That was before Commission of Government went in and referred not only to the last Government but [...]an over a number of Governments elected by its own people. This, mark you, is in a paper which has been strongly insistent that they must have their own right of self-government and which shares its views with the "Daily News," the leading paper in Newfoundland. We saw the articles of the hon. Member opposite which are syndicated on that Continent in this paper from time to time.
§ Mr. Ammon
That was the position we were up against. In addition to what we propose with regard to the Commission themselves we also suggest that it is not quite in keeping with his position, nor is it fair, that the Governor should continue to be Chairman of the Commission. It places him in an invidious position in that he might seem to take sides, but, after all, he is the King's representative. Although fully qualified as this gentleman undoubtedly is, and against whom there is not a word of criticism, either from us or from Newfoundland, from the very nature of things he has not the training neither the experience to appreciate a position like that. Therefore we have sug- 1750 gested that there should be a chairman appointed by the Governor after his choice had been agreed to by the members of the new Commission and this we suggest as a half-way house. In addition we suggest that a Treasury official should go out there to advise and that he should, have power, up to whatever might be the agreed amount, to consent to expenditure on the spot rather than that every trumpery bit of expenditure should have to be referred back to London in order to obtain assent to it. We also suggest that two or three highly placed civil servants should go out from this country to advise in Newfoundland and that similar civil servants should come over here from Newfoundland in order to obtain a training in this country and so by that means gradually to build up a Civil Service. Those, in broad outline, are the main proposals we suggest with regard to the Commission government themselves.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question really to bring out a point? Are he and the hon. Friends who accompanied the deputation aware that several Members of this House, including myself, who have paid private visits to Newfoundland in recent years, have approached the appropriate authorities—the Dominions Office—with very much the same sort of proposals that he has made and that to date not the slightest notice has been taken of any of the suggestions that have been made?
§ Mr. Ammon
I hope they are going to realise it to-day, though I do not know. We cannot expect that Newfoundland can stand on her feet alone economically, so we have ventured to put proposals to the Dominions Office whereby they must be helped. If we want a British Empire, we must be expected to shoulder the responsibilities as well as the glory.
§ Mr. Baxter
Would the hon. Member clarify the point? Is it his opinion that Newfoundland will never in normal times be able to stand on its feet economically?
§ Mr. Ammon
If the hon. Member will allow me, I will develop that point in 1751 my own way. There should be laid down a ten years' scale of economic development, and for that purpose there should be a loan, in agriculture, education, health, roads, transport and other services. That must be backed by a development loan from this side, in order that Newfoundland may be put on her feet. That brings me to the point asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). My colleagues and I do not accept the view for one moment that Newfoundland cannot give a decent standard of life to an even larger population than she has now if she is given the proper opportunity to develop. If this scheme of development were accepted, she could administer it on her own. That is the idea we have put before the Dominions Office. I do not accept the view that Newfoundland cannot feed herself. Moreover, the main part of her revenue is raised by taxes on imported goods. That in itself means, of necessity, an increased cost of living and bears most heavily on the poorest people in the community. When we were asked, "Cannot you do something to reduce the cost of living?" we replied, "It is impossible while you maintain that system of raising your revenue."
Denominationalism and sectarianism also have to be taken into consideration. We have put forward proposals for starting and developing a Civil Service Commission, somewhat on the lines of our own, which would be more effective than anything else in sweeping away this denominationalism and sectarianism. Each of us has written a report of over 30,000 words, apart from appendices, so the House can imagine how difficult it is to say all one wants to say in the available time.
With regard to the Motion on the Order Paper, by good luck there came to me in the post last night cuttings from recent issues of "The Evening Telegram" and "The Daily News," which are the newspapers in that island. Both bear out the testimony that they do not feel that they can yet be given the full state of responsible government. Let me give the House the benefit of their opinion. "The Evening Telegram" for 30th November states:In view of the absence of anything which could be described as an insistent demand by 1752 the general public for the immediate restoration of Newfoundland's former status it is not an unreasonable inference that they were not particularly impressed with any desire for an immediate change.…"The Daily News" for 3rd December states:As this newspaper has observed time and again we have failed as a people to exhibit active interest in our own political and economic destiny.… Even now, when a debate on our political status is about to take place in Parliament, the public is satisfied to leave all public comment to the Press.… It is at the door of the Commission of Government that failure to enlarge local government must be laid since the political education of the people of Newfoundland was a direct charge upon it. Local government will not develop far or fast if left to the voluntary decision of the people as the difficulties encountered in some communities amply demonstrate.…Again, "The Evening Telegram" of 4th December states:It can scarcely be shown that up to the present the population has displayed the strong insistence which might reasonably have been expected to be restored the rights of the franchise … neither the daily nor the weekly newspapers are deluged with letters demanding a return to responsible government.That is the view of Newfoundland.
§ Mr. Ammon
The hon. Gentleman knows that these people represent more than anything those most clamorous for a return to the old affairs. They have changed their views considerably in the light of more recent events. That is the case I put forward. It would be ten times worse than last time if we gave responsible self-government to Newfoundland and she fell into the same trouble again. This House, the Government and the country will fail in their duty to Newfoundland if, while admitting and recognising the right to restore full self-government as soon as possible, they did not take steps to see that when they do so Newfoundland would be in a position to develop and maintain her country economically to the fullest possible extent. It is along those lines that we make our recommendations. We must use our thought, discrimination and sympathy in determining the right moment and the best possible circumstances to give Newfoundland full self-government. The proposals we have put forward will help to give them the guidance for which they have asked in these newspaper articles. We have to remember 1753 the strategic importance of Newfoundland in the days to come. It is doubly essential that we should not run a risk by placing in her hands power which she will not be able to utilise properly. We should make sure that what we do for Newfoundland is well founded, so that she can not only stand on her own feet but will be able to walk.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
I had hoped to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later in the Debate, but as the Debate itself started rather later than expected it might perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I followed the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). As he said, I will deal rather more with Newfoundland's economic problems and prospects, which will perhaps be of some assistance to the House in deciding whether or not to approve of the Motion. I would like to say how much I agree with everything my hon. Friend said and to associate myself with his remarks about the kindness we received in Newfoundland from the Governor, Lady Walwyn, the Commission and every section of the community. It is difficult, of course, to get public opinion where you have not much local government and where there is not even a village moot, such as our English "pub." But we went out into the highways and byways, and we met clergymen of every denomination. I should say that there must be more clergymen per man-power in Newfoundland than in any other country in the-world? We met merchants and fishermen of all classes. They are a delightful people, and, like all who wrestle daily with the forces of nature, they are very religious. We must remember that because, owing to religious training in Newfoundland there is less crime there than in any other country. They are very loyal and their outlook is very much the same as ours.
The people there are marvellously hospitable and have wonderful manners. Perhaps I might illustrate those manners by quoting the last signal which my hon. and gallant Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) and I received as we were leaving St. John's in a destroyer. The signal sent by some of our Newfoundland friends was:There are more tears than water in our whisky to-night.1754 That signal gave us courage to feel that our journey was not in vain and that somehow we had got across. I would like to congratulate the Government on the boldness and rapidity of their announcement. I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Deputy-Prime Minister, who was Secretary of State and who has been to Newfoundland and has taken a great interest in that country. I would like to thank him for the opportunity he gave me, and the privilege, of allowing me to go on the Mission. It has now been announced that Newfoundlanders themselves shall decide what form of Constitution they want. That, again, shows that our journey has not been in vain.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell said about the Commission of Government. They have done a fine job. They have increased health services, brought in compulsory education, though not quite so compulsory as we would like—but it is on the right lines—and they have instituted a permanent Civil Service. Before that there was the spoils system in which whole offices changed when the Government went out. Complicated by the fact that even down to crossing-sweepers people had to be given offices according to the proportion of their religious denomination. That has been swept away. The Commission of Government has also done great work in establishing co-operative societies. I admit, of course, that it is not a popular Government. No Government that has been in office for 10 years is very popular. But nearly every critic of the Commission of Government ended by saying, "Mind you, the Commission has done a great job." I do not think that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has ever given that much praise to this democratically elected Government of all parties and talents that graces the Front Bench.
I did find a great difference of opinion. Nobody wants responsible government now, and if such a proposal were put on the Order Paper by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and were put to the vote, I do not think it would get any vote except his own. But I found that there was great doubt about after the war, and the curious thing is that trade unions and co-operative societies are more apprehensive about 1755 return to responsible government than the merchants of St. John's. Many said they wanted responsible government x years after the war, but the further we journeyed from St. John's the greater the size of x grew. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Petty Officer Herbert) will enlarge on the feeling in Newfoundland about St. Johns and its lack of popularity among the rest of the population.
I should like to turn to the really important question which is fundamental to our discussion, whether Newfoundland can stand alone. It has a population of 300,000, scattered over 6,000 miles of coastline, in a country not very much smaller than England. Some people have suggested that she might go in with the United States or amalgamate or confederate with Canada. I quite agree that that is a question that can only finally be decided by Newfoundlanders and Newfoundlanders alone, but I am sure if it was put to the vote it would be overwhelmingly defeated. But why should we be defeatist? This is a country which has more experience of Empire problems than any nation and are more likely to solve this difficult Imperial puzzle than any other. I believe this country alone can assist Newfoundland to become self-supporting. It may be asked what guarantee we have that the position will not lapse into what it was after the last war. Remember that Newfoundland imports nearly all her necessities of life and has to pay for them by exports. Her chief export is, of course, cod. It has been the custom of the Newfoundland fisheries in the past to catch the cod, split it and salt it and sell it to the Mediterranean, Spanish and South American countries, countries with the lowest standard of living. I think after the war there will be a demand for all kinds of food, because Europe will be more or less starving and there will be a demand for salt cod. But the great hope of the Newfoundland fisheries is the reorganisation of the fisheries which is now taking place. A new process has been established, and it is successful. It consists in buying the cod as it is caught from the fishermen, and filleting it, sharp freezing it, wrapping it in attractive celophane wrappers and sending it over to the British and United States markets. I do not know whether Great Britain will be able to take 1756 this product after the war, but an enormous amount depends on whether the United States will import this attractive article of food. Contrary to what many people believe, the United States as a whole are not a great fish-eating nation, but they are now buying this new product, and it is getting to the American market. The Government after the war will, no doubt, by Trade Treaties endeavour to see that it enters the American market on favourable terms. If it can get into the American market—I think it will—the whole situation will be altered. Instead of selling the cod to countries with a low standard of living, they will be selling to the United States with a higher standard.
But that is not the end of the story, because at the moment in regard to the salt cod industry, the fisherman has to catch his cod and split it and salt it. He has to do that as well as fish. That means that he has not sufficient time to fish. Now he can sell direct to the factories and go back and catch more fish. In addition to that, the factories are employing girls, many of them of the fishermen's families, so that more money comes into the homes. Further, while in the salt cod industry only about 40 per cent. is used in the factories, the whole of the fish is processed and made into fillets, cod liver oil and the offal into fish meal and fertilisers. The new factories will attract in that way ancillary industries. The whole question depends on this new development, and many enterprising Newfoundland firms are erecting these factories. We saw any amount of them. But more money will be required, and the Government must help in the long-term development plan. I understand that the whole plan is in the Dominions Office. I hope it will not lie in the overburdened, weighed down and groaning pigeon holes of the Dominion Office, but will be put into practice.
The other prospect that I see for helping the country is agriculture and timber. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will tell the House something about timber and the paper companies. I want to come to agriculture. No country can have a proper economic balance if it does not possess an agriculture. It is very difficult to farm in Newfoundland. You cannot just go out and dig or plough. You have to drain the bog, an expensive process, and clear the forest—but I think it can be done. There have been various settlements established which are working well, 1757 but it is a very heartbreaking job for a man to clear the timber before he begins to cultivate the land. I believe it ought to be done by the Government using skilled men to clear large tracts of land so that it will be possible to establish mixed farms. Newfoundland suffers from malnutrition and has the lowest consumption of fresh milk in the world. I am convinced that with a proper system of agriculture it will be possible to produce enough protective food, such as fresh meat, milk and vegetables and so on, to feed the people. Coupled with agriculture is the tourist industry. If properly developed, it can do an enormous amount and give employment. Newfoundland possesses wonderful sporting possibilities. It has the finest salmon rivers in the world. None of them have been sold or let. I hope that policy will be continued. Anyone who goes to Newfoundland can fish in the finest rivers in the world on payment of a small licence fee, but it is no good them going if they cannot go to the rivers and have nowhere to stay. The Tourist Association, a voluntary body, is doing very fine work and has put up some log cabins, but much more is required. It must be undertaken by the Government. They must build holiday camps and a certain amount of roads. I do not suggest a great road building programme which might not be economical.
Curiously enough, the future of the tourist traffic and the future of farming go very much together. The best salmon rivers and the best agricultural land are on the West coast running up to the Codonoy Valley to the Upper Humber. It will be quite easy, by connecting up some roads, to drive a road from Pont au Basque where the American tourists would land to the upper Humber and so develop the tourist traffic and agriculture. You would kill two birds with one stone, or shall I say develop two industries by one road by that means. This will require money, but I believe it can be done fairly cheaply by building roads and settlements, rest houses and hotels, by the use of skilled labour. By an extraordinarily fortunate coincidence we have in this country at this moment the Newfoundland lumber unit. I have just spent five days with them. The Newfoundland Forestry and Lumber Unit is doing a great work in Scotland. The men know each 1758 other and are accustomed to building roads and erecting camps and clearing trees. I suggest that this unit ought to be kept together—they are helping the United Nations to win the war—after the war let them go back to Newfoundland as a unit and help to develop their own country.
Do not underrate the tourist traffic. We all know that France drew an enormous revenue from it before the last war, but does the House know that Canada, that great wheat and exporting country, actually got more from the tourist traffic before the war than from the whole of her wheat? That is an astonishing fact. Here is a country, with all these amenities, which might well attract a lot of visitors, and there can be no more attractive country in which to spend a holiday. Newfoundland is right on the map now in regard to Trans-Atlantic Air Travel. Anyone who has gone into the question knows that it is only profitable, or the least unprofitable, when the long hop is as small as possible. The longer the hop the greater the amount of petrol you have to carry and the less the pay load. Therefore trans-Atlantic aeroplanes will be bound to land at the nearest point each side of the Atlantic. The nearest point to Great Britain is Gander in Newfoundland. The other nearest point is Goose Bay in the Labrador. I am very sorry to hear that has been leased to Canada for 99 years. I must speak frankly and tell the House that Newfoundland resents this very much. I must tell the House what the feeling of Newfoundland in the matter is, but I hope at any rate that though Goose Bay has been leased for military purposes the rights of Newfoundland in regard to civil flying have been preserved.
§ Mr. Baxter
Were the people of Newfoundland consulted in any way under our present system of government as to the leasing of the territory of Labrador?
§ Sir D. Gunston
My hon. Friend knows that they were not consulted then, nor were they consulted in regard to the leasing of the American bases, which they took in an extraordinarily good spirit and realised it was all part of the united war effort. I do not think any of us realise what that meant to Newfoundland. After all, you can sit in the middle of St. John's and see one of the bases that have been leased. I do not think, human 1759 nature being what it is, they like it. We would not if Hyde Park had been leased to Canada for 99 years. The fact that you have a terminus is very important; we know trans ocean steamers give the most employment at ports of final destination. The Transatlantic aeroplanes will use Gander and Goose as the Western Atlantic Termini. I believe the proper development of air travel can help Newfoundland very much in employment and in bringing the Island into closer contact with this country.
I want to say a word about the Newfoundland war effort. Newfoundland has a population of 40,000 men between 20 and 40, and 10,000 of them have joined the Forces, while 3,000 have come over as lumbermen. Others are busily engaged in fishing and getting food for the United Nations. Yet 1,500 have joined the Mercantile Marine. It is a wonderful record. After the last war we took away the R.N.R. training ship—one of the worst things we have ever done. They are marvellous natural seamen and they resented the training ship being taken away. After the war ships will be wanted to carry Newfoundland fish products, and they ought to be manned by Newfoundlanders. I hope that the Government will let them have an R.N.R. training ship there and start some scheme for training Newfoundlanders for the Mercantile Marine. Anybody who fought in France in the last war knew how wonderfully well the Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought. We went to their memorial service on the anniversary of Beaumont Hamel which they hold as their commeration day. After the war the regiment was disbanded. Now there are two Newfoundland Regiments of Artillery which are showing the usual Newfoundland spirit. We should not forget that Newfoundland Budget now shows a surplus and is lending a lot of it free of interest to this country. It would be a gracious act and much appreciated if we recognised the great war effort of Newfoundland by establishing a regular Newfoundland regiment, to be called the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. In order to ease the country's Budget, I suggest that it should be paid for by the British Treasury. I would not keep it in Newfoundland. Let it do its tour of duty abroad like any other regiment, and while 1760 it is abroad let there be a British regiment in Newfoundland. That is a way to keep the two islands together. Why not go further and after the war let British regiments do their tour of duty in the Dominions and the Dominion regiments come and do their tour of duty in this country? That would be a fine way of bringing the Empire into greater personal contact.
The suggestions I have made, together with the suggestions of the hon. Member about social reforms, will cost money, but it would not be a fantastic figure. As far as I can ascertain, we could carry out this development programme and extend the social services at an expenditure of about £20,000,000 spread over 10 years. If we went in for a cheeseparing policy it might not cost less, but at the end we should have unhappiness and discontent. I suggest that with an expenditure which would be only about double as much as the grant-in-aid before the war, there would be something to show at the end of it. Surely it would be much better to spend money on developing the country and at the end have Newfoundland a proud asset and not an unwilling liability. For the constitutional reason it is important to help her to become self-supporting because if she does not she will be driven into choosing a half-way house. She can choose a half-way house if she likes, but I want her to be in a position in which she can go the whole hog if she so desires. How can this be done? I believe it can be done by working on some such lines as the Colonial Development Fund and Welfare Act. It would be possible under that Act to give a loan to Newfoundland free of interest for five years and at a low rate of interest for five more years. This would not interfere with her aim of self-government because, though that money might have to be under the control of the United Kingdom, it would in no way interfere with any of the ordinary functions which would come under the newly elected Government. I would put a string on that money because Newfoundlanders themsleves, who have a great suspicion of the old gang, would like to feel that it would be spent on development and would not be diverted to other purposes.
I left Newfoundland much more hopeful than when I went there. I believe that if we help her to develop herself, young progressive people and people who are 1761 returning from overseas, realising that we see her worth and her importance, will be encouraged and will have faith in their own country. I did find a certain amount of defeatism. Let us help them to have faith and the will to get together and to organise among themselves in order to get a decent Government; they must not fail again. I am sure that if we take bold, far-sighted and generous measures the people in their turn will do their best to see that Newfoundland, which is not only the oldest Colony but the place, they and we are proud to remember, where the British Empire was founded, can become one of the more prosperous and the best governed parts of the British Empire.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I beg to move, in line 4, to leave out "as soon as practicable," and to add "forthwith."
I was reluctant to be called at this point, owing to the fact that the two hon. Members who would normally give me their support have unfortunately both had to leave the precincts, and in the event of their not coming back before I have concluded my oration. I am in the difficult position of being dependent entirely on the good will of other Members of the House and on my ability to persuade someone to second the Amendment. I want to bring to the notice of the House precisely what we have the opportunity of discussing to-day. The three hon. Members who formed the informal goodwill Mission to Newfoundland have put on the Order Paper a Motion in which they call upon the Government to take the necessary preliminary action for self-government as soon as practicable. All that I am suggesting in the Amendment is that the House should call upon the Government to take the necessary preliminary action forthwith. We do not ask that the Government should immediately take steps to get going a general election in Newfoundland. I am merely urging that the preliminary steps towards a restoration of self-government should not have to wait until the Government think it is practicable to take steps. I think that at the conclusion of this Debate the Government should have an instruction from the House of Commons to begin now to take the preliminary steps. I am making a very small demand. I am more insistent in making it because the Under-Secretary of State, in his speech on Government 1762 policy in the Debate on the Address on Dominion affairs made this statement, and I have difficulty in understanding its true significance. In reply to an interruption by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), he said:My hon. Friend is very impatient. If he will wait a little, he will hear a little more. There is, however, a widespread feeling that the return by even one single step to full responsible government would be a great mistake."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1943: col. 599, Vol. 395.]It is the Government's view apparently that they must not take even one small step.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Emrys-Evans)
I am sorry that the hon. Member has misunderstood what I said. What I meant was that to go straight from the present position back to the position which existed before the suspension of the Constitution and to do it in one single step would be a mistake, for public opinion in Newfoundland would be against taking one single step back to the position that existed before the suspension.
§ Mr. Maxton
The hon. Gentleman is reported as I have quoted it. It may be that it is Hansard's mistake. I take it that the hon. Gentleman's meaning is that the Government object to going back to the old position in one jump.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I did not say the Government. I said public opinion. If the hon. Member follows the statement which I made afterwards, he will find it is clear what the position of the Government is, and the alternatives.
§ Mr. Maxton
I know all about the alternatives. I wanted to be clear on the other point. I do not pretend to minimise the difficulties of this problem. I congratulate the three hon. Gentlemen who went out there on the very excellent work that they did. I chaffed about their going and made jests about it, but since they came back they have written reports of 30,000 words each. They were good enough to give me the opportunity of reading them, presumably all with the same idea that I required considerable education on the subject. I did each one of them the honour of reading the reports from beginning to end, and I admit that they were of great educational value to myself. In particular, I went through the report of the hon. and gallant Mem- 1763 ber for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert), hoping for light entertainment as I go to his other literary efforts. I was disappointed. There was a distinguished writer in my young days called Barry Pain, who delivered himself of the aphorism that nothing aggravates a man more than to be disbelieved on one of the few occasions when he tells the truth. A humorist must also feel that it is hard that on the one occasion when he does a bit of serious work it should be taken as a jest. I pay a tribute to the hon. Member and say that it was not a bit of humorous writing but a first-class study of both the geographical and the psychological problems involved.
Each of the hon. Members wrote his own report, and created a precedent which, I think, would be useful if it could be carried one step further. Those of us who have been members of Committees or Commissions appointed by this House know that usually we are got into alignment and append our names to some rather dull formal document. The three hon. Members in this case were too individualistic to do that and each produced his own bit of work. It should be carried one step further; the Government should allow the three documents to see the light of day. It is all wrong that they should be circulated only in the very limited way that individual Members can do it privately. They did excellent work in surveying the problems and setting forth their ideas, and it would have been more gracious if, instead of asking the three hon. Members to submit their own Motion to the House to-day—and I argued for a Motion through the usual channels—the Government had themselves put a Motion on the Order Paper in which, among other things, they expressed their thanks to the three hon. Members. Not only had they to do the job of going to Newfoundland but they have had to come back here and undertake Parliamentary propaganda for getting something done.
Having said those things, I come now to the issue before us. When the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) was speaking he repeated what has been said again and again by the Government, that it was from the people of Newfoundland that the demand came for the taking away of their democratic assembly. Though that is true it is an 1764 awfully unfair statement. This island of hard-working, simple folk came up in 1930–31–32–33–34 against economic difficulties that were facing the world. They were caught in a mess. They had borrowed money in London and in Wall Street and they were being messed about by their creditors. I suppose it would be regarded as immoral advice if I said the right thing for them to have done was what every business man does when he gets into an inextricable financial mess, He takes proceedings in bankrupty. He says, "There are my assets and there are my debts. Here you are, make the best of it." He pays, perhaps, 2s. 6d. in the £, or 6d., or something of that kind. But Newfoundland did not want to do that and the British Government did not want them to do it.
They were not the only country in the world that had this particular problem. Germany had it. No single problem in Germany leading to the rise of Nazi power was more potent than this problem of external debt and the inability to pay the interest. When the great Labour and Socialist International met in Vienna in 1931 to discuss ways and means of helping the German people in their difficulties, the one recommendation they could make was to tell them to change their bankers and get better terms for their external loans. In this country in 1931 the Labour Government, of which the hon. Member for North Camberwell was a member, came up against exactly the same thing. They were in difficulties with the bankers both in London and Wall Street, and there were the spokesmen of the Conservative Party on the Opposition Front Bench, and they just simply held up the white flag and surrendered and the National Government came into power The Newfoundlanders were not the only body of people who found in 1931 or round about that time that it was tremendously difficult for a democracy to keep its head above water. They were ground between the upper and the nether millstones. There were unemployed populations crying for bread on the one hand and bankers calling for their interest and dividends on the other. It was in these circumstances that the political leaders of Newfoundland requested that Newfoundland's Constitution should be suspended.
§ Mr. Maxton
The hon. Member admitted it, but I am laying an entirely different emphasis upon it. I am pointing out that when the Newfoundlanders were up against problems that Russia solved by revolution, that Hitler met by a Fascist régime, and that this country met by a National Government, they said "We have thrown in our hand too. We cannot carry on." It is not fair, in my view, to bring that up as an argument in favour of our being rather leisurely about the restoration of self-government. I have the Statute and the report of the Debate in this House. The House is bound, in honour, to restore self-government to Newfoundland as soon as it has got out of its financial difficulties and is sailing again on an even financial keel. As I said in a previous Debate, Newfoundland is to-day in a better financial position than is Great Britain. We are getting into debt every month, every week; we are borrowing all over the place. Newfoundland is not only not borrowing but is lending, and lending to His Majesty's Government free of interest. Therefore, I say, the conditions have now been met that make it obligatory upon this House to restore self-government to Newfoundland. But there is the other point, and that is what the Government are resting upon now, and what the Commissioners are backing them up in, and that is that there must be a request from Newfoundland as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What about the quotations that the hon. Member for North Camberwell read?
§ Mr. Baxter
The Under-Secretary, in a speech a few days ago, distinctly said that self-government would be restored when the country was solvent and when, as a necessary adjunct, the people asked for it.
§ Mr. Maxton
In the Schedule to the Act there are the two conditions: one, financial solvency, and the other an expressed wish from the Newfoundland people. We started asking Questions in Parliament about this business 12 months ago, on the initiative of people in Newfoundland, who remembered that when, in 1933, their Parliament 1766 was taken away I had put up a fairly strenuous opposition to the change. Quite spontaneously, without any approach from me, letters and cables began to come to me from different sections of the community in Newfoundland—from individuals, from professional men, from trades unions and from a body which has the resounding title of "The Board of Trade," though I understand that in Newfoundland it is not a part of the structure of Government, as is the case with the Board of Trade in this country, but is the representative organisation of the business community round about St. John's. Are the three hon. Members who went to Newfoundland trying to tell me that the trade union leaders, the professional men and the Board of Trade, who wrote to me urging that Newfoundland should have self-government restored have all changed their minds? I did not ask them to ask me, they did it on their own; and yet the three hon. Members come back and report to us that there is no desire among the people there for the immediate restoration of self-government and, indeed, that there is reluctance on the part of Newfoundlanders to take an active part in political life.
For the last three weeks I have been spending some time in a place called Acton, and the results of the activities out there were seen after Question time in the House to-day. There was returned to this honourable House after a three weeks' campaign a Member of Parliament who had fewer votes than his predecessor had a majority. Only 16 per cent. of the electors were sufficiently interested to go to the poll. That was in London, where the Mother of Parliaments lives, where they have the benefits of a great daily Press, where they have more Members of Parliament than we have for the whole of Scotland, where they have that great democratic assembly, the London County Council, and God knows how many local borough councils in addition—28, I believe. Only 16 per cent. of the electorate took the trouble to vote after having been stimulated for about three weeks by four different groups. If I had wandered up to Acton, a stranger in a strange land, as the three good-will missionaries wandered into Newfoundland, and started calling on the people, as I understand our friends did in Newfoundland, or speaking to them in "pubs" or at street corners and saying 1767 to them, "What do you think about a General Election; how do you think Great Britain ought to be governed?" what do hon. Members think their response would be? Some of my hon. Friends suggest that I could not tell what their answer would be without being vulgar, and I do not intend to be vulgar.
We had a two days' Debate on foreign affairs this week, and I heard hon. Member after hon. Member describe exactly how Germany is to be governed, how Yugoslavia is to be governed and what should be done about the Lebanon and Algiers. In fact they discussed what was to be done in almost every corner of the globe. It appears that we know just exactly what we are going to do; we are going to re-educate the Germans among other things. The British Empire that has had democracy for the best part of a century, and the three Commissioners and the Government all think that they are not fit to be trusted with democracy until a considerable period of time has elapsed and a process of re-education has taken place. That might be a good way to treat Germans; I do not know. I do not think it would even work with Germans.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. Member is going back to a Debate of two days ago. The hon. Member should keep to the Debate, as many other Members want a chance to take part in the discussion.
§ Mr. Maxton
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I can only apologise and say that I do not often have to merit your rebuke. I will keep very close to the matter under discussion, but I think that the word "forthwith" should be substituted for "as soon as possible," so that the preliminary steps can be put into operation immediately and an election held in Newfoundland. I feel that the people of Newfoundland should be brought up against their own problems as soon as possible, so that they can make up their minds how to face the responsibilities of self-government and so that they can begin to organise political parties and get people interested. They must face all the essentials now, before a General Election can be held. The fact that the Commission of Government will do this thing and the next thing, and so on, and that they will spend £20,000,000 1768 in social services in exchange for democracy is no contribution to how Newfoundland is to be governed. I could give you a whole lot of advice as to the steps which ought to be taken. I could suggest to you that trade unionists who have the necessary knowledge could go out and get in touch with their opposite numbers in Newfoundland and get things done. I could suggest a whole variety of ways in which the people of Newfoundland could be stimulated into making the most of their island and getting a decent existence for themselves, but it is not my job. My job here is to see that the people of Newfoundland are put into the political position to do all these things for themselves, and, therefore, I am asking the House, while recognising the good work that the three visitors have done, and while recognising the statement that has been made twice from that bench, that the Government should recognise their statutory and moral responsibility in this matter. It is not good enough merely to recognise that responsibility in an academic way. The Dominions Office must be told that Newfoundland must start now to prepare for self-government. I beg to move.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not accept the Amendment; I thought it was too limited. I do not agree to accept it now.
§ Mr. Maxton
I was called upon to move the Amendment, Mr. Speaker, but I do not think you were in the Chair at the time. The Amendment was read at some length. Let me remind you, Mr. Speaker, that a very short while ago I understood you to call me to Order because I was speaking somewhat more widely than the Amendment warranted.
§ Mr. Speaker
Very well. I am quite prepared to accept the Amendment on the understanding that it is a very limited one. It is "now" instead of "as soon as possible." It is a very limited point.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I was not in the House when the independence of Newfoundland was taken away, but I was responsible for the various Amendments that were on the Paper at that time when the taking away of the freedom of the Newfoundland 1769 people was determined on the Floor of this House. Consequently, I have a good deal of interest in this question. I think that the House would be doing a great service to the people of Newfoundland and a great service to the people of this country, and to the cause of democracy generally, if this Amendment were accepted and carried to-day. I would like to join with my hon. Friend in thanking the Commissioners who went to Newfoundland for their services, but at the same time I would desire to make the point that their political colour and their political outlook were practically the same. They were all Members of a very Conservative political outlook. It is possibly true that they were from different parties, but, possibly, the main difference in their political outlook was that their sense of humour was slightly different rather than their political sense. I do not think that there is any real ground now for not giving to the people of Newfoundland the immediate opportunity to govern themselves. They have fulfilled all their financial obligations They are just as well in the position to govern themselves as those wise men of Gotham who are in charge at the present time under the supervision of the British Government here.
When I look across at that Bench, and without wanting to be the least bit disrespectful to the Minister in charge today, I feel that some of the people I have met in Newfoundland would be just as capable of governing as anyone on that Bench. In seconding this Amendment I want to say this. Just now there is a great deal of discussion as to the future government of this country and that country. There is the question that arouses a great deal of attention in the United States of America as to what is going to be the future of the bases that the United States have got in several parts of the world. I notice also that the editor of a famous paper in the United States has suggested that Scotland should come into the United States of America as a new State, and I give the warning to this House to-day that unless it is prepared forthwith to give to Newfoundland its freedom and the right to govern itself, it is not beyond practical politics that the people of Newfoundland will say, "Well, if you are not willing to give us that freedom, we are going to take what steps lay open to us in the matter." An hon. Member said to me, "Never." That is exactly what this 1770 House used to say in the days before the American independence. The same type of mind said "Never," in that determined way, but the United States did break away from this country. I can see Newfoundland in future becoming a State in the United States unless this country is prepared to honour its obligations as the Newfoundland people have honoured their financial obligations, and to give an opportunity forthwith to the full government of themselves. They are just as capable of doing that as any of the three Commissioners are of governing them, and perhaps the ordinary Tom, Dick or Harry is more capable than some of the Ministers who are obstructing our proposals.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I intervene for a short time to give a reason against the adoption of the Amendment. The desire of the Government is to get back to self-government as soon as it is practicable. Hon. Members below the Gangway want to do it whether it is practicable or not. The suggestion of the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment was that here is a wicked Government obstructing the burning desire of the people of Newfoundland at once to go back to Parliamentary government. I do not know on what the hon. Member forms his opinion. I will give briefly my experience.
When I went to the Dominions Office, I had been interested in this matter previously and, like hon. Members below the Gangway, I had opposed the setting-up of this particular form of government. I still think it was a mistake. I know that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) took the same line. We also did not like the economic set-up in the island. I began to look into the matter. I had a report from my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare), who had just been out to Newfoundland. I thought the best thing to do was to see some of the people of Newfoundland, and I was able to visit a number of people who were working for the war, and particularly a large number in Scotland and some who were serving in this country. I thought that the best thing I could do as soon as possible was to go over and see what were the views of the people of Newfoundland themselves. I do not necessarily take resolutions of boards of trade at their face value, and I do not believe that newspapers are necessarily the voice of the people. They may be the voice of the proprietors. I 1771 thought the best thing was to go there and get first-hand experience.
I did not have very long, and travel is difficult in that country. I only had about 10 days, but I did try to see as many people as I could. I saw leading merchants, officials, trade unionists, fishermen, judges and people of every kind in trying to collect the views of the people on this subject. I was interested when my three hon. Friends returned and they spoke to me, to find out that, after their longer experience and with the advantage they had of visiting many of the parts which I could not visit at that time, in no respect did they disagree with the views which I had formed in that rather short visit. It is not a question of whether the people in this country think or do not think that the people of Newfoundland are fit to govern themselves, but of what the people of Newfoundland think themselves. I agree with my hon. Friend that, up and down the country, there was not this unanimous desire to get back to the particular form of government they had before. Some thought there might be a half-way house, but no one that I met wanted to go back to just the form of government they had before.
The second thing that struck me was that, as it is now 10 years since representative government was done away with, it was a deplorable thing that, perhaps with some very slight exceptions, there was no local government on the island and therefore there had been no practice in forms of democracy. I do not hold with my hon. Friends below the Gangway that rather old-fashioned Victorian optimism that you merely tell people to govern themselves and everything goes all right. Experience shows that it is one thing to have the forms of democracy and another thing to be able to work them. We have seen many most excellent Constitutions fail owing to the fact that the people were not able to work them. In that island, there has not been this practice, and, furthermore, because there has been no practice for 10 years, adults right up to the age of 30 have never cast a vote.
§ Mr. Maxton
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are people up to 28 years of age in this country who have not cast a vote in a General Election?
§ Mr. Attlee
I quite agree, but there are people like my hon. Friend carrying on their functions in Parliament, and therefore the people to whom he refers do know what representative government is. People have not had that advantage in Newfoundland, and they have had no object lesson. Another point which does not seem to have struck hon. Members below the Gangway is that Newfoundland is making a very notable contribution to the war effort. Youths of Newfoundland are serving on ships and in the Army, as well as in the lumber camps, and that again makes it difficult to have an immediate General Election or to take some immediate steps to restore self-government by a stroke of the pen. They are all British subjects, and they naturally wish to get back to self-government, but I can assure hon. Members that no one I spoke to wanted an immediate return to self-government or a return to exactly the form of self-government they had before.
The unfortunate—as I think—Act which was passed, against the views of some of us in this House, provided for the setting-up of a Commission, but did not provide any way for bringing it to an end or for setting up a new Constitution. It was a very remarkable omission. What we have said on behalf of the Government is that my Noble Friend will take steps to ascertain what machinery will be most acceptable to Newfoundland public opinion and to devise means to bring it into effect at an appropriate moment. I think it is really better that we should try to get from the Newfoundland people, by consultation, their view of the kind of machinery they would like set up—to determine their future Constitution than to act on purely a priori lines, or the lines suggested by hon. Members below the Gangway; and put them back 10 years, where they were 10 years ago, and where it certainly does not appear they necessarily want to go to now.
Therefore, so far from there being any wavering about this, we have acted, first of all by inquiry, and a democratic inquiry. I was extremely obliged—I think all the House was—to my three hon. Friends who visited the island and made contacts, because it is not easy where there is not machinery for collecting public opinion, in a large country scattered into a number of small villages, with very few towns, to ascertain what the general run of public opinion is. I think an extremely 1773 valuable service was done. I accept the views put forward by the three hon. Members who have visited the island and who did personally talk with the people of Newfoundland a good deal more willingly than I do the a priori view of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), who has not been there and seen the situation, and who with all his ability must necessarily take his views at second hand. I suggest that this House would be right to take the line of the Government, that we should try to ascertain as soon as possible from the people of Newfoundland what they consider to be the most practical way for getting machinery set up, ascertaining the kind of Constitution they want, rather than taking the line of "Let us give them what we think would be good for them. Let us put them back exactly where they were."
§ Mr. Maxton
That is what we are doing now and what we are proposing to continue indefinitely, governing by gauleiters. That is government in Newfoundland now.
§ Mr. Attlee
The hon. Member is quite wrong. He is suggesting that now, without consulting the people of Newfoundland and against what our own Members who have been there have said is the view of the people, we should, in accordance with the theoretical views of my hon. Friend below the Gangway, proceed by giving them something which on the best evidence, as far as I can make out, they do not want at present. I suggest that full consultation of the people of Newfoundland in order to find out what they want is more democratic and more practical. I would ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
Could my right hon. Friend be a little more explicit as to what he has in mind as to the full consultation of the people of Newfoundland? Would he suggest how that consultation should take place and how the various sections of the people are to be invited to express their views?
§ Mr. Attlee
If my hon. Friend would look back to the last Debate we had on this matter, he would find that there were suggestions made that there might be some kind of convention to get representative people of various kinds together. It is obviously difficult, when there is no democratic machinery, to get the views of the 1774 people, but there is this suggestion of trying to get a cross-section, to get a kind of convention in order that some kind of proposition might be framed to put before the people of Newfoundland. One has to remember that this matter has not been placed before them at all and to ask them "Yes" or "No" has all the disadvantages of a plebiscite.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would suggest to the House that we dispose of this Amendment, for it is a limiting Amendment. If hon. Members agree, I will put the Question.
§ Amendment put, and negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I think we are all grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister first for helping to arrange this Debate and for giving this subject the time which it deserved. Also we are very glad that he has been able to get down to the House and make the statement he did, even if it was a somewhat limited one. In my opinion this House was not properly aware of the action that it took in 1933. There was a small group of Members who seemed to know what would happen, and the Deputy Prime Minister practically admitted that he was one of that group. What happened in this House in 1933 was a monstrous denial of democracy. Ten years have passed by, and because that has come to pass which everyone knew would come to pass, because the people of Newfoundland have lost their political instinct very largely, the Government are looking at the matter as though nothing could be done about it, almost with a sense of satisfaction, as if to prove that what they did in 1933 was right. Let us admit that there were desperate circumstances. Sir Richard Squire's Government had been in office for a long time and had become very corrupt. But this is something I have not heard in any of the Debates, that there was a General Election and that the Squire Government was swept out of office. I think every member of the party except two was defeated. A new Government was formed on the policy of retrenchment and reform, headed by Mr. Allerdice. The economic blizzard which had crashed Wall Street and which was to bring us to the very edge of bankruptcy struck Newfoundland. They could not meet the de- 1775 mands for interest. They had not enough money in the Exchequer to pay their way, and the misery in their country was very great. The question has arisen to-day, and it has been said over and over again that Newfoundland asked us for a Commission Government. That is only partially true. They were in extremis and sent word to us, "Will you send a Royal Commission to inquire into our difficulties?" We did so. It was the Royal Commission that recommended that the Parliament House which had been open for a 100 years must be locked and barred.
All this happened in the oldest overseas territory this country had, which for 85 years had been a Dominion. Did we say to this new Government, this untried Government, "We will help you, we will co-operate with you"? Not a bit. The Royal Commission said, "You are finished. We will take from you your Dominion status. We will close your Parliament and we will put in a government by commission. That is what they recommended, and the Allerdice Government could do nothing but humbly petition his Gracious Majesty to wind up the democracy of Newfoundland.
In the Debates at that, time the noble Lord opposite played a very fine part in opposing it. So did the Deputy Prime Minister. There was another Member of the Government who I wish were here today to repeat the words he said with prophetic prescience on that occasion. I refer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Aircraft Production. This is what he said then. I ask the House to be patient with me if I quote him. We do not realise what we did at that time. The Minister of Aircraft Production said:This is the first time that there has been any inroad on democratic government of any dominion, the first time we have ever taken a retrogressive step in that gradual advance to free government within the Commonwealth.He added:It does not necessarily follow that the solution of the troubles of Newfoundland is bound up with the abolition of democracy.There for once, if he never did it again, he spoke in the language of Burke. He concluded:Capital punishment is not the only punishment for democracy.1776 He went further. Realising that to take from the people of Newfoundland the exercise of democratic government, the exercise of the franchise, with the discussions and elections that go with it, would result in their becoming politically paralysed—and the three hon. Gentlemen who have come back tell us that the people have lost political interest very largely—the Minister of Aircraft Production moved an Amendment to the Bill, to limit the unhappy experiment to three years, because he said, "If you do not do that, these people will lose the political instinct." He foretold exactly what has happened.
What was the financial crisis that let Newfoundland down? It is not a pleasant story. It starts with the Squires Government. The Squires Government did many good things, but they became terribly corrupt. In 1933 Newfoundland owed, all told, about £20,000,000. Of that 26,000,000 dollars were owed to the bankers of New York in gold bonds payable at the gold price. Another 6,000,000 dollars had been loaned by the Canadian banks to help to pay the interest. The Canadian banks charged on that five and even five and a half per cent—a very heavy rate of interest, indicating that they took a certain risk. The rest was owed here. Newfoundland tried to pay her interest. When she could not, we took the debt over. Her interest charges on her external loans were over £1,000,000 a year. Had she not had to pay that on the year when she went bankrupt, she would have had 3,000,000 dollars surplus in her Treasury to meet the cost of the social services.
§ Mr. Baxter
They would have been able to raise the unemployment dole and so on, and pay for these health services which they wanted to create at that time. We helped Newfoundland out; there is no denying that. We converted the loan to 3½ per cent., and we guaranteed it here. Then we paid back New York and the Canadian banks. The British investor, whose bonds had fallen to 25, had the satisfaction of seeing them rise to 85. Newfoundland owed us £20,000,000 when that conversion started. At the end she still owed us £20,000,000, but New York 1777 had enjoyed the rather unusual experience of having had a debt paid by this country for Newfoundland and the Canadian banks, which had gambled a bit on the loan, got their money back. The British people had secured their investment. Then we decided to turn back the clock, and to bring to our oldest possession the institution of taxation without representation, something which one would have thought we had dropped from the time of the American rebellion.
These were the first three things we promised. We agreed to put Newfoundland on her feet as speedily as possible, secondly to promote the political education of her people, and thirdly to restore the Constitution—which we had never revoked, but merely suspended—as soon as the island was self-supporting again. In that Act itself there is no mention of a request from the Newfoundland people; that is in the Commission's recommendations, but not in the Act itself. [Interruption.] I am sorry; the Minister says that it is in appendix to the Act. In the actual Clauses it does not appear. The fact is that the Newfoundland Commission of Government have governed as civil servants always will, honestly, without imagination. To promote the political education of the Newfoundland people is our second pledge. Instead we have deprived the people of their political education. We are pledged to restore the Constitution when Newfoundland is solvent. You have heard that Newfoundland has been lending us money. She has been solvent for nearly three years; she has considerable cash reserves now. But we have decided that we must not honour our pledge to restore her independence—I grant the Minister the point—unless the people ask for it.
I ask the Under-Secretary to explain the position of the Government. Does he believe that we are trying to deal with Newfoundland on the basis of a means test, on a Micawber style of finance—income £20, expenditure £20 0s. 6d., self-government; income £20, expenditure £19 19s. 6d., no self-government. [Interruption.] I am afraid that I have it twisted: Mr. Micawber got things twisted too. At any rate, 6d. too much expenditure, no self-government; 6d. on the right side, self-government. It is a poor thing. Do this Government lay 1778 down that Newfoundland must be solvent before we help her? That seems a very sad thing. I hope I carry my noble Friend with me on this point. When Newfoundland owed us money, we put in the Commissioners. You have heard how Newfoundland is now paying us money: I should say that we have had on deposit about $10,000,000. Suppose we cannot pay it when the war is over. Will Newfoundland be entitled to send three Commissioners to Britain and close this House? It sounds absurd, certainly, but the principle is the same. I will not touch on the point about the bases, because that has been dealt with, but I suggest that to give a 99 years' lease to Canada or to the United States on Newfoundland territory without the people of Newfoundland being consulted, is a very dangerous thing. Suppose that when they get self-government they repudiate it. What is the charge that will be made against us by the nations with which we entered into the arrangements in the first place? This is storing up serious trouble.
§ Mr. Baxter
Yes. After all, we have bases in Iceland, but Iceland takes them back when the war is over. The Prime Minister of Canada has laid it down that any territorial concessions to other nations by Canada will return to Canada when the war is over. Newfoundland has no voice: Newfoundland is run by the Dominions Office here. Can Newfoundland's High Commissioner raise his voice at the daily conference of High Commissioners in London? He cannot; because he is not allowed to attend. The man who was the High Commissioner is now a trade commissioner. The very offices of Newfoundland in Ottawa and Washington have been closed down—there has been some talk in the Press of opening them again. But do the people want self-government? Our hon. Friends have been to talk to them. The Press has been quoted. I have not time to read all the Press clippings, but I have some that are very recent. Let me read one or two. This is from the "Daily News":The Commissioner Government has been the most degrading period in the history of this unhappy country—a period of moral, spiritual, social, cultural, and except for the war, economic decline.These are very strong words. The "Daily News" says again: 1779As long as the Commission system stands there will be a stigma on the name of Newfoundland.There are many other similar quotations. Let us look upon the future of Newfoundland as an Atlantic aerodrome. Ribbentrop described this country as the aerodrome anchored near the coast of Europe. Newfoundland is the aerodrome anchored near the Continent of North America. It is, from the point of view of a civilian aircraft base, most important. If war comes again, it will be doubly important to us. Are we to bind the people of Newfoundland to us in the only possible way? I put down an Amendment that there should be a General Election in three months' time, and if that Amendment had been called I would have explained what I meant. You cannot hand over the government of Newfoundland at once. You cannot do it automatically. But we should call a General Election in three months' time after 1st January to elect delegates to a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of creating a Provisional Government, that Government to work with the Commission Government for the gradual handing over, and then for it to go in one year's time to the country with a general reconstruction policy. They say we cannot do this because the young men of Newfoundland are overseas fighting. The one difficulty of that is that these young men are going to come back to their country to find a Government without any post-war policy at all. They do not want to come back to take part in politics; they want jobs, work and a future.
Let me end with these words. We never should have taken from Newfoundland the right of self-government. It was undignified and unworthy of the traditions of this country. I say to Newfoundland from this House, "We do not, as a Mother Country, give self-government as a prize, as a lollipop. We give it as a command." There comes a point in the history of every country of this Empire when self-government comes as a challenge and a command, and in that tradition we should say to Newfoundland, "Now call your leaders together, arrange to govern yourselves, and we will stand by you through bad times and good times, not rating less high your democratic rights than your financial solvency. 1780 Govern yourselves, come side by side with us into the future," and let us end our own shame here for having closed a Parliament that had governed for 100 years.
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
I am moved by the course of this Debate and by the compliments of hon. Friends opposite to make not a protest but a respectful request to His Majesty's Government about these blessed reports of ours. I hope that I have not more than the ordinary vanity of a professional writer, and although it is a new experience for me to write 30,000 words, not merely without pay but without publication, I am prepared to suffer if it is in the public interest.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
Not all. But I make this request for the practical advantage of the House and the people. The background of this business is so complicated and important—the House observed the modest way in which my two colleagues hurried through innumerable subjects. It is quite impossible unless you have that background, to understand what happened. You cannot discuss education in Newfoundland without a long description of the extraordinary denominational system to which reference has been made. You cannot discuss trade or agriculture without going into the Gulf Stream and the Labrador currents and thousands of other things. I have seen something of the Empire, but I think that little Newfoundland is about the most testing and complicated puzzle in the whole Imperial scene. Something of the religious, political and indeed, industrial problems of Ireland and of India, the size of Ireland, the title of a Dominion, the population of Bradford, the history and habits of Dominion government and the social services of a neglected Crown Colony—all the problems of Empire are crammed into one little place. We have done our little best to try and make these things clear.
I ask the Government, though I acquiesced in the decision of the Dominions Secretary that our reports should not be published—I recognise the reasons, though I think they were exaggerated—to consider whether they would like to cut out any parts they think to be un-desirable 1781 or "filthy pictures" and let the House have the rest of them. None of the passages which anybody is afraid of, by the way, are derogatory to Newfoundland. They are frank, honest people and we told them exactly what we thought about things when we were there.
The "simple"—and I put "simple" in inverted commas—questions we really have to answer are, Is Newfoundland likely to be self-supporting in the strict economic sense, say, within two years after the war? and, Is she to be denied self-government until she is self-supporting in that way? My answer to both questions is, "No." That sounds simple, but it is not; nothing is simple in this affair. It would be delightful and easy, and nothing would please me more than, to say, "Newfoundland is to have her two Houses of Parliament in action tomorrow." Whatever may be the truth about the history of this sad business—I agree with a good deal of what my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) have said—and whether they are right or wrong, I should like to thank them for having kept the name and affairs of Newfoundland so well before the people as they have done—the present situation was not of our seeking and is no particular fun for us. It was no fun for us to go round that island as representatives of the British House of Commons, and responsible for an anomalous autocratic régime, sometimes popular and sometimes unjustly unpopular—to go into their Houses of Parliament and find that we had made them a den of civil servants. If anyone "carries the baby" he expects to hear an occasional whimper from the child, but it must be very galling to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench here to be abused by friends of the baby for not incontinently throwing it away.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green really doubts what we sadly say—that there is political atrophy in Newfoundland—I will read him a passage from one of the Newfoundland newspapers in a few moments. We may have caused this atrophy but there it is. The last time I addressed this House I pointed out that there were some 100 Members who did not know what the rights of Private Members were; that if they were given the opportunity of introducing a Private Bill to-morrow they would not 1782 know how to begin. There is a similar sort of situation in Newfoundland. No man can name the national leader of the future. No man can say, "This is my party, and this will be my candidate when elections return." We saw the beginnings of a new Labour Party there, but we never heard of any other party. The whole gear is out of action. All that can be remedied, I think, by what we proposed, and by what I think the Government have in mind. But it is idle to ignore that that is the factual picture. I have here "The Daily News," from which almost everybody has quoted today. It states:If Mr. Baxter, with the backing of the Beaverbrook papers, which he appears able to command, wants to serve our cause most effectively he should come out here and talk to us and put himself into the position of a thoroughly informed advocate.That is a little unfair, because everyone cannot go everywhere. But here is the point:There are other questions besides sentiment about the self-government of this Dominion before we take up again the full responsibility of Dominion autonomy. To have self-government dropped into our laps before we have had the opportunity to prepare for it, to find leaders and national policies and to discuss financial and economic questions would be harmful to our interests.I mention that because it confirms our sad conclusions. The islanders are uncertain of themselves—and it may be our fault—both politically and economically. It is quite idle, although the Motion appears to do it, to consider either of these elements alone. Freedom is not enough: and prosperity is not enough. I am quite sure that if you gave two Parliaments to Newfoundland tomorrow and said nothing about their economic future they would not thank you very much. On the other hand, if you gave them all the money in the world they would still expect, rightly, I think, to have some say in their affairs. I put my name to the Motion and I do welcome the announcement of the Government, so far as it goes. I do not blame them for not having had time to make an announcement on the economic side, but I must warn them that this will not be the last Debate on Newfoundland if we can help it. At some fairly early date some positive pronouncement on the economic side must be made.
May I say a few words on the political and constitutional problem? I hope the 1783 House will forgive me if I use the words "I" and "my" a good many times. Although we are substantially unanimous we differ on some points, and it is difficult to remember where we are unanimous. Three weeks after I reached the island I suggested that an announcement should be made on the lines of that which has been made. I thought, by the way, that the Deputy Prime Minister went a little too far—though of course he was quoting his own experience—when he said that nobody wanted exactly what they had before. We did meet some who want violently and loudly what they had before, although they may not be the majority.
We should announce, I suggested, that, say, two or three years after the war, or from now if you like, that we intended to restore full self-government to Newfoundland unless by a plebiscite one year before that they had chosen some other form of government. But that interim period should not be regarded as another period of autocratic alien rule but should be used by Newfoundland, with such assistance as we can give them, (a) to find out what they want, and (b) to prepare the people for a renewal of political activity, to help the emergence of leaders and the formation of parties and stimulate interest and the like. For that purpose I suggested the formation of a Council of Citizens, appointed by the Governor, from every class and body. There are a great many bodies in Newfoundland—the West Newfoundland Association, the Board of Trade, co-operative societies, and so on, who are already studying the problems of the future. I suggested that they should frame the questions which should be put to the people at the plebiscite and that when they had finished that part of their task they should get on with the business of political education. The wireless, for example, has not been sufficiently used. In scattered communities in winter-time the only method by which the Government can reach the people is by wireless which should be used for political and, for that matter, for school education. We should send out lecturers to teach people how to take the chair at meetings, to make speeches, to teach the history of their country, the value of local government, and so on, and actively assist a resurgence of political interest and act.
If I may, I should like to go back to the question, What sort of alternatives 1784 are there to the original form of government which might be worth discussing? My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) mentioned the possibility that Newfoundland should elect their three Commissioners. That might do as a stop-gap for a short time, but it would not do for long, because the same troubles as there are now would exist. The people do not know what is going on. They cannot go into a Chamber like this and shake their fists at Ministers and ask them what they are doing—for example, about Goose Bay. Whatever we do about electing Commissioners, that difficulty would still remain. In our last Debate on this topic I was attracted by a suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), who, I am sorry to say, is ill. It was that it may be possible to consider the inclusion of Newfoundland in the United Kingdom on lines roughly, but not exactly, similar to Northern Ireland. That again, I believe, has been rather turned aside in high quarters, but I hope that high quarters will consider it because it meets the dilemma, as some call it, of my two main propositions that (1) Newfoundland must govern herself and (2) we must help her financially.
That seems to be a constitutional dilemma, but, after all, it is happening all the time in Northern Ireland, and no one notices it at all. It rests upon Imperial taxation, and the Newfoundlanders have such a strong objection to any form of taxation that at the first suggestion the idea of Imperial taxation might frighten them into the sea. But of course it would not be ordinary Imperial taxation; it would be taxation adapted to their needs and resources. There would be a special Newfoundland Budget, and I suppose we might reserve a few services. I hope high quarters will consider whether that could be carried out.
That would be one of the things to be discussed by the Council, which should be presided over or assisted, I suggest, by a big constitutional expert from this country and attended by representatives of the Dominions Office able at any moment to say what was in the minds of the Department. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nominated or elected?"] The Council of Citizens would have to be nominated, because there is no machinery for electing anyone. But that is a detail. Then it is possible 1785 that they might say, "We want Dominion status, with two Houses of Parliament and the rest of it," but although they want to have a say in their own affairs, they do not put on Dominion airs. You do not hear the words "Dominion status" at all. So they might think it better to have a single Chamber, as in Ceylon or Jamaica, with elected and appointed Members face to face instead of having a bogus House of Lords which no one ever sees and no one respects. That is another alternative. There are two or three ideas thrown out. When the Council or Convention has discussed all these things and found out the kind of strength that there is in this, that or the other, they can decide what question shall be put to the people at the plebiscite. The question of how soon is one of detail. I suggested, I think, two years after the war.
But all this will be of very small consequence to the Newfoundlanders unless they have some confidence about their economic future. We have all unanimously suggested the frightening phrase "A 10 years' plan." The House will be surprised to hear that I do not pose as an expert, but I am certain that even if, say, two years after the war Newfoundland is able to maintain her social services at their present level, which is a deplorably low one—and that is doubtful—it is certain that without assistance from someone—and that someone must be us—they will never be raised to a level which will be compatible with the dignity of a British people under the British flag. Therefore someone has to assist. As my hon. and gallant Friend says, the more we went about the more faith we had in the place, and the future of the place; and given such schemes as the reorganisation of the fisheries, which I believe the Government have already approved of, and given the development of agriculture, roads and so on, I think it can be most confidently predicted that in 10 years they may be able to sail alone on an even keel, though, even then, it might be better for them to form part of a bigger economic unit. A high official, at my request, gave me a rough unofficial estimate of what would be the cost of a 10 years' plan. He worked it out in detail, including costs of annual maintenance, and the figure surprised me. It came to 80,000,000 dollars—£16,000,000. Over 10 years that is a very big figure to Newfoundland but a very small figure to us. I know that 1786 there are a lot of "fleabites" about. The Empire is asking for "fleabites" everywhere, but, if that figure is correct, it is a remarkably small one, and it would make very little difference to us.
I know that it is asking a lot of this House and of British taxpayers, of whom I count myself no small part, to be generous not only with freedom but with finance. I never quite know what is meant by Imperialist, a word of which my hon. and gallant Friend is very fond. I am always rather surprised that a mind of such clarity should use such a woolly word. I am glad that England did not stay at home, does not stay at home and, please God, never will stay home. I am glad that we sent our sons from Bristol and from Poole to catch the cod and plant the flag of England and settle by the frozen seas.
But I recognise that, when they did so, they laid upon us an inescapable charge, and we cannot now avoid it. There they are still. Four hundred years ago Sir Humphrey Gilbert planted the flag of Queen Elizabeth on the spot above the harbour of St. John's, where on Commemoration Day they remember the Battle of Beaumont Hamel; and if you had stood there with us and seen the soldiers and sailors, the Girl Scouts, the Guides, the Church Lads' Brigade and the old gentlemen with their top hats and medals and ribbons and heard the talk of Devonshire and Somerset and Wales and Scotland and Ireland you would have said you were somewhere in the West of England, and you would also have said, "These are not people about whose future I can remain unconcerned." As I have said elsewhere, if anyone landed from a ship or a parachute in any part of that little island and listened to the talk he would say, "Perhaps I am in Devonshire or Somerset or Ireland or Wales." He would never say, "I am in the United States or in Canada."
In that simple physical fact is a great political truth, because I am sure that as long as we stand by them the last thing they want to do is to leave us. There is a picture of His Majesty in every home. There is an English name in every home. Ninety-nine per cent. of them are pure British. My interpretation of Imperialism is not, perhaps, everyone's. I never meet them, but I am told that some people think of the activities of our forefathers 1787 in terms of dividends only. Others, more sensible, are thinking of duties and dividends, because not once or twice in our Island story the path of duty has led to dividends. In this case I address myself most earnestly to that part of the Imperial mind which is concerned with duty only. I am not offering any large capitalist enterprises to anybody, although there may be something coming that way.
I must, by the way, say a word about Labrador, because one of the things that has not been mentioned is that this island of 42,000 square miles, by a freak of history, a decision of the Privy Council and the cleverness of the present Lord Chancellor, who was their advocate, Newfoundland possesses 104,000 square miles of Labrador three times her own size. It is a rugged country which contains a large amount of timber, and it is believed a great many minerals which the Canadians are now prospecting for. I want to hear some announcement of Government policy about Labrador with regard not only to its development, but to the welfare of the people who live there, and consider themselves neglected. If we are to go on having the rule of Newfoundland, we musk see that Labrador is properly surveyed and developed. I would like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for doing me the honour of sending me on this interesting trip. I do not know that we can do anything rapidly for self-government, but the sooner we can do it the better, and we must couple it with some generous financial assistance.