HC Deb 10 June 1943 vol 390 cc873-97
Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I want to use the opportunity of the Adjournment to raise a matter affecting the status of the Dominion of Newfoundland. This became a matter of current politics some months ago, when, as a result of a cable which I received from the Board of Trade of Newfoundland, I asked a Question in the House of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. He answered that Question, that these representations had been received, but he was careful to explain that the Board of Trade was not a responsible body like our Board of Trade in this country, but a group of rather inconsiderable business people in Newfoundland.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Attlee)

I am sure my hon. Friend does not want to put words into my mouth. I did not say they were inconsiderable; I merely said they were a body of merchant traders, differentiating from a Government Department.

Mr. Maxton

I had not hoped to bring the right hon. Gentleman to his feet quite so soon in my speech. I did not wish to misrepresent him, but I thought his answer suggested that this Board of Trade was not to be taken seriously as being a representative point of view coming from Newfoundland. That seemed to me to be the tone and tenor of his answer. However, a week or so later, probably in response to his reply, I got a further cable from a number of trade union leaders, supporting the view that was put forward by the Newfoundland Board of Trade asking for restoration of self-government to the Island. Then there was a lapse until one day, suddenly, the right hon. Gentleman announced to the House that he was sending an informal Parliamentary deputation to Newfoundland. Then I became seriously concerned about the business, because it seemed to me that that was the response to the requests that were coming to Newfoundland for the res- toration of self-government and that the sending of three Members of this House on an informal Mission was not the correct answer to give to the Newfoundland people when they asked for restoration of Dominion status.

I have been misunderstood by all three hon. Gentlemen who are members of that Mission. They seemed to think that I was objecting to their having a trip to Newfoundland. Well, a lot of charges and criticism can be and have been made against me, but I have never been a spoilsport. If two or three of the boys are to have a bit of fun, I say, "Good luck,'' That has always been my attitude and always will be my attitude. I shall regret the absence from this House for an extended period of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert)—whose naval duties, I imagine, have prevented him from being present to-day, and the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). I have some doubts as to how my friends above the Gangway will be able to comport themselves in Admiralty Debates without the services of their expert. I shall also regret the absence of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston). I am quite sure our loss will be Newfoundland's gain. I hope a good time will be had by all. There is a more imposing and more responsible delegation going to Canada, which also has my good wishes, if they are of any use to them.

If the Dominions Secretary will excuse my borrowing a phrase from him, I think the sending of a Mission to Newfoundland is a most irresponsible way of dealing with the problem which presents itself there at the present time. This House, in 1933, on the advice of the then Dominions Secretary, the right hon. J. H. Thomas, because it had been reported to him that the financial affairs of Newfoundland were not being conducted with complete rectitude, was so horrified that he decided that the only way to cope with the situation was by taking away from the Dominion its right to govern itself and put in brokers. I was horrified at that, and the present Dominions Secretary was even more horrified. At that time he was on the Opposition side of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "That makes a difference."] On the Second Reading of the Bill which was to take away Newfoundland's independence the right hon. Gentle- man moved, on behalf of his friends, a Reasoned Amendment. He said: I beg to move, to leave out from the word 'that' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: 'whilst anxious to relieve the-distress of the Newfoundland fishermen and their families, this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which, while imposing an unjustifiable burden upon British taxpayers by the provision of grants and guarantees in the interests of banks, moneylenders and stockholders, makes no specific provision for substituting the inefficient and vicious system of competitive capitalism, truck, and exploitation by an economic system organized in the interests of the community.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1933; col. 223, Vol. 24.] Then the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to make a speech which occupied half a dozen columns in the OFFICIAL REPORT, going from one form of vituperation to a more extreme form. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), who followed him, did not use quite the same terminology—they were not then the close political associates they are to-day—but at any rate his speech was on the same lines. Every responsible person who took part in that Debate, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the then Dominions Secretary, was very regretful that this step should have to be taken. The Government of the day only got' the Measure through after a very extended Committee stage which lasted all through one day and into the next and in which I participated on 18 occasions. The Measure was accepted by the House only after the right hon. Gentleman the then Dominions Secretary and the other spokesman for the Government on that occasion had laid stress on the very temporary nature of the step which was to be taken. It was said that it was to be only until such time as Newfoundland was in a position to meet its external indebtedness and that when it reached the stage of being able to meet its external financial liabilities its Government would be restored to it again. We have now reached that stage in Newfoundland, and there is no need for committees of investigation, formal or informal. Not only did the right hon. Gentleman lay stress on the temporary nature of the Measure, but the Statute itself, although a very clumsy instrument, made up of the Bill, First and Second Schedules, and all the rest of it, did include a part of the Report of the Royal Commission which had been out there under Lord Amulree. This is an integral part of the Statute, and it says: Your Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would, for their part, assume general responsibility for the, finances of the Island until such time as it may become self-supporting again, and would, in particular, make such arrangements as may be deemed just and practicable with a view to securing to Newfoundland a reduction in the present burden of the public debt. It would be understood that, as soon as the Island's difficulties are overcome and the country is again self-supporting responsible Government, on request from the people of Newfoundland would be restored. I call attention to the last words. This House is bound, in honour and in law, that when the Island has become self-supporting again self-Government will be restored, on request from the people of Newfoundland. Now, I gather that this Government is proposing to quibble about the words "on request from the people of Newfoundland." The Board of Trade apparently will not do. Obviously they are the business community, concentrated in St. John's, the capital, and probably with a say in the political affairs of the Island out of proportion to their numerical strength.

Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey)

May I interrupt my hon. Friend? Would not a request such as he refers to be a request from the Government, as representative of the people—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is no Government."]—or from the Governor whereas the term "Board of Trade" in the whole of Canada, and in Newfoundland, simply means the chamber of commerce.

Mr. Maxton

And is it then the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman that chambers of commerce should be ignored?

Sir G. Gibson

Not at all. I am only pointing out that they do not necessarily represent the whole of the people.

Mr. Maxton

I was just coming to that point. I was about to say that in this country, as in Newfoundland, chambers of commerce have a big say in the politics of the country, although they represent only a section of the community.

Sir G. Gibson

I want my hon. Friend to realise that I am only trying to help him. I want him to bring' before the House a proper picture—a true and accurate picture.

Mr. Maxton

Nobody welcomes help more than I do, and there is no one in this House to whom it is more seldom forthcoming, but I do not think that on this particular point I am in any difficulty. It has been made plain that the Board of Trade in Newfoundland is not the same as the Board of Trade in this country, though, as some of my hon. Friends will remember, there have been misunderstandings here also, about the functions of our Board of Trade. But in Newfoundland it is a chamber of commerce which represents business interests in St. John's—a minority. But surely the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Gibson) is not going to say that it should be entirely ignored because it happens to be a minority. If so, it would seem that I have, so far, misunderstood his general attitude on political affairs. I am not suggesting that a request from this chamber of commerce would be a request from the people of Newfoundland, but certainly it would be much nearer being a request from the people of Newfoundland than would be a request from the Governor, who represents this country. It would certainly represent the voice of the people of Newfoundland much more than the Commission of Government which we put in there.

I am not going to say that we should do whatever the chamber of commerce ask us to do, simply because they have asked us to do it. That is a thing which, generally, I should view with great suspicion, but, as I have already said, I have had a cable from representative leaders of trade unions in the country, and since then I have had a very useful document—I imagine it has also been sent to the Secretary of State for the Dominions—from a King's Counsel, Mr. Richard Cramm, who has what is known as "a good address" in St. John's, Newfoundland. His address is "Royal Bank of Canada Buildings," which conveys an impression of integrity and solidity. He is acting on behalf of different sections of the community, and he encloses a resolution of 29th March of the Newfoundland Board of Trade; a resolution adopted by the presidents of six unions on 13th April; a letter written by a well-known medical man of the Island, who is head of one of the big public medical services; an editorial from an important weekly newspaper; letters from other representative citizens of Newfoundland, and an Address to His Majesty, which it is proposed to have circulated and signed by the people of Newfoundland. So that the people of Newfoundland are, obviously, taking the necessary steps to get a request put before the Dominions Secretary which will be a representative request from the people of Newfoundland. If that request comes along, I do not see how, on the Statute, the right hon. Gentleman has any grounds for resisting the immediate restoration of self-government to the Island.

It may be said that there was some funny work going on among the politicians, but I think that has been grossly exaggerated. I have also in mind that politicians at all times and in all lands have been subject to the charge that they are not above placing their personal interests before the public well-being. Indeed, a large section of the population in every country believes it is the exceptional thing for a politician to put the public weal above his personal welfare. Even I, who in these matters am, I think, as neatly above suspicion as Caesar's wife, yesterday received an anonymous letter which showed that the writer had not a particularly high estimate of my character. He has no personal basis for it, but is just repeating this constant charge levelled against political persons. I think that in the case of Newfoundland there was a tremendous lot of exaggeration about the wrongness of the politicians and that what happened in Newfoundland in 1933 was what happened in Britain in 1931, what happened in Germany and what happened in the United States. Here we call it an economic blizzard. It brought down a Labour Government and brought in a National Government. That was enough for us here. In Germany exactly the same kind of financial problem overthrew democracy and brought Nazism into power. In the United States at a slightly later date the same thing happened—a collapse of the financial capitalist system, new deals, etc., widespread bankruptcy, and mass unemployment.

Newfoundland, with a population of 250,000, some of the hardest-working people who inhabit the surface of the globe, men engaged in the most arduous, dangerous and disagreeable forms of work, dragging a living out of the raw contact with nature, fishing, mining, and lumbering—these people, faced with the same financial problem, had taken away from them the right to govern themselves which they had had over an extended-period. There was need for something to be done to straighten out their affairs, as things had to be done here to straighten out the affairs of this country, but I think the situation could have been adequately met by the sending-out of some competent Civil servant, someone of the order of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, to take charge of the books and get things straightened out. That was the size of the problem. The Commission of Government has been in control during these 10 years, and the conditions for the restoration of self-government have been more than adequately fulfilled. The debt charges, which were far and away beyond the capacity of the Island to meet, are now being met regularly and in full. Their National Debt is diminishing. Some of the most awkward parts of it have been extinguished. Each year the payment of debt charges, interest and sinking fund has still left a surplus, and, while it is very difficult to get precise information about the Island now, although I was helped by the Dominions Secretary to some extent, because regular annual reports have ceased to be published, it is a fact that they are having a surplus each year on their Budget and lending money to this country, I gather free of interest. One can see the total extinction of the whole of the Newfoundland Debt within a measurable period of time. I wish I could see that for this country. We never dream of applying to ourselves financially the same standards that we insist on applying to Newfoundland. The debt charges, from being a huge part of their annual Budget, have sunk into an insignificant fraction of the whole.

I know the right hon. Gentleman will tell me it is true that the financial position of the Island has improved out of all knowledge in the last three or four years. Instead of raising a revenue in the neighbourhood of 4,000,000 dollars, they have been steadily going up and are raising a revenue of 25,000,000 dollars in the current year, but I know he will say this is a fictitious war prosperity: What is to happen after the war? I am very disturbed in my own mind when I ask that question about the Clyde, because we are relatively prosperous up there just now. There is a very small number of unemployed, wages are considerably above the normal, and things are going along merrily, but it is a fictitious war prosperity and where we are going to be after the war no one in the House can tell me. Our gallant Allies in the United States will build all the shipping of the world—at least, they will have the capacity to do it if they want to do it. I ask what is the future of the Clyde, and no member of the Government can give me an answer. The Clyde, like Newfoundland, will have to be dependent after the war on the same things that we are dependent on—the ability of the nations of the world to make intelligent understandings with one another about trade and the interchange of products. But Newfoundland starts from this vantage point, that a certain proportion of the things that are causing industrial activity over there now on account of war reasons are, if there is to be any intelligent development at all in the future, going to remain, because no one can rule out the place of Newfoundland in world aviation, whether it is war or civil aviation. No one can rule out of account the fact that Newfoundland represents the nearest point of the Americas than can be reached by sea from this country, and in any big future that Newfoundland has we may assume that she is going to be used intelligently by Canada, by this country and by the United States. It is so important in its position on the highways of the world that it will not be the orphan child that it was. It will have a whole lot of friends, and its future will not be the future of an island struggling under somewhat difficult climatic conditions to gain a miserable livelihood by engaging in the extractive industries and getting the poorest type of return for excessively hard labour.

Therefore, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he must not tell me that this is a fictitious war prosperity. It is prosperity, and that is more than we can say about our position here. It is financial stability, and what happens after the war to Newfoundland is one of the problems that will concern the whole world after the war. If the right hon. Gentleman gets in the near future a request from a representative body of Newfoundland citizens, his duty, acting on behalf of the Government and of this House, is to make arrangements for the resumption of Parliamentary government in Newfoundland forthwith. I have no doubt that that Parliamentary government will make a whole lot of mistakes. It will not be such a good Parliamentary government as we always have in this country. I have no doubt that bad statesmen will get into the Parliament and they will get out again, and that democracy will go floundering along as if does everywhere else. Nobody has ever pretended that it is a perfect instrument, but it is the instrument which this country believes in. It is the instrument which this country says it is fighting to preserve. This is one of the touchstones by which the honesty of our professions in this war is to be judged, because if we cannot trust these decent people of Newfoundland with the right to govern themselves we cannot trust anyone.

Sir Edward Grigg (Altrincham)

I am sure all hon. Members realise that the subject which has been very wisely raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) goes to the foundation of our Imperial system. This Empire exists because it is a freedom-building Empire. It is only because it is a freedom-building Empire that once again in the last three years it has altered the history of the world. In this case of what is known as the oldest Colony, which afterwards became Dominion, whose history as a self-governing Colony goes back a very long way, certainly to Stuart times, this House must consider what it is doing when it refuses, if it is going to refuse, to consider the will of the people of Newfoundland. This House itself exists upon the will of the people of this country. That is the principle upon which it is based, and that principle is not to be changed, not to be even suspended, in any part of the Empire, for any period longer than is absolutely necessary, nor suspended at all without the gravest consideration and thought.

I do not want to go back very much upon the past. My hon. Friend quoted from the Debate when this Act was passed ten years ago. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Dominions Secretary still holds the convictions which he held then. I am certain that he has not changed and that in aim we appeal to the same man who made that speech. I do not doubt it for a moment. I still think that a mistake was made at that time. I would not agree with, my hon.

Friend that the conditions in Newfoundland are comparable with the conditions here in 1931. The trouble was much more serious than that. The difficulty of restoring any kind of sound economic system to Newfoundland was very much greater than it was here. Unfortunately, Newfoundland was suffering partly on our account. It is true that her affairs had been mismanaged, but the crisis was caused partly by the world crisis which was going on at that time and partly, let us remember, by the fact that this House and the Government decided to put sanctions on Italy and thus deprived Newfoundland of the best market it then had for fish. It was as a result of the direct action of this House that the worst part of the crisis occurred in Newfoundland.

A further difficulty was caused at the time by the attitude of the Dominion of Canada, with which we are not concerned here. Certainly the trouble in Newfoundland was not entirely the fault of the people, although they had not been very wisely led. For my part, I greatly regret that their Constitution was so completely suspended. It seemed to me at the time that the right course if we were going to take over in this country and make it the responsibility of this House to levy taxation in Newfoundland was that we ought to have gone on the ancient principle of no taxation without representation and given Newfoundland representation in this House. There is no reason why that should not have been done. I pressed it at the time, and I cannot understand why the Government rejected it. I greatly regret that the course pursued was pursued. However, that is the past.

I do not wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend in what is a difficult moment for him in many ways. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton that this House must consider most gravely its responsibility in this matter and its duty of seeing that the will of the people of Newfoundland is consulted. I do not know what their will is, I have not been able to explore the various expressions of opinion that have come from Newfoundland, but I consider that some trustworthy means should be taken of finding out what the people of Newfoundland really require at the present time. We owe them that, not only because of the principle on which this House itself is based, but because the service they have rendered in this war, as in every other war in which we have been engaged, has been absolutely magnificent.

What are the courses open at the present time? The, alternatives should be put quite squarely to the people of that ancient Dominion. There is an alternative which has often been discussed in Newfoundland, that is, the choice of becoming a Province of the Dominion of Canada. That suggestion has a chequered history. When Newfoundland wanted to join Canada, Canada was against it. When Canada wanted Newfoundland, Newfoundland was against it. Where the thing stands at the present moment I do not know, "but that is one of the alternatives which ought to be considered. My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that the position of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic is a very critical position and that the future of Newfoundland will be much safer as part of some greater Federation as a self-governing Colony than in complete isolation in the North Atlantic. That is not the only alternative. There is, of course, the possibility of the return of complete Dominion rights. I am doubtful about that, because nobody can foresee what strains will come on that Island at the end of the war. How can we tell what will happen at the end of the war? Its position may become very difficult again. I believe that, without touching its right for self-government, we ought to consider our responsibility of seeing that Newfoundland runs no economic risks which it can avoid in future.

I therefore suggest that the third alternative to be considered, apart from union with Canada or complete independence as a Dominion, is to come into the system of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. After all, Northern Ireland manages to be self-governing, and it also sends representatives to this Parliament. It is a precedent which is worth considering in the case of Newfoundland and worth putting to the people of the Dominion. In my belief, it is the best solution not only of that case, but of one or two other cases which we may have to raise on some other occasion in the House.

Mr. Maxton

Does not my hon. Friend agree that any one of these alternatives will have to be a matter of negotiation be- tween the Dominion of Newfoundland and ourselves, and that what this House is bound to do is to restore self-government to Newfoundland?

Sir E. Grigg

My hon. Friend really need not have interrupted me to make that point, for it is the foundation of my speech. Whatever course is taken by Newfoundland, it must be, of course, taken with the will of the people of Newfoundland. All I am suggesting is that these alternatives should be put to them and that they should be consulted about them. They should be put in a way which will enable them to judge of the merits of the different points. Any suggestion on my hon. Friend's part or on anybody's part that I would try to force a course upon the people of Newfoundland which is not in accordance with their own will would really be a complete libel not only on myself personally, but on the whole position of the Empire which we are here in this House to uphold. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend make the speech he did. He is coining into the fold of the Imperialists. I welcome him. He is a better Imperialist than he knows. He shakes his head, but he certainly made a speech which in many ways delighted me. I do press this point upon my right hon. Friend. The time is at hand when the will of the people of Newfoundland should once again be ascertained. When that period comes I hope that more than one alternative will be put before them and that we shall freely offer them the alternative of coming into the system of this country on the same basis as Northern Ireland.

Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)

I rise to express the hope that when the alternatives are put before the people of Newfoundland the suggestion that they should have representatives in this House within the system of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will not be lost sight of. In these days, when transport is developing so rapidly, it may well be that a constituency in New Zealand—I mean Newfoundland—might be less difficult to communicate with than that of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). Whatever solution may be found for Newfoundland, the one which is intolerable is that a population of between 300,000 and 400,000 people, 100 per cent. British in origin, who have rendered the services they have over a very long period, should have no say whatever in the discussion and determination of their own affairs. I am not able to share the optimistic view of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston in regard to the prospect of——

Mr. Maxton

The hon. Member made an understandable mistake in referring to New Zealand when he obviously meant Newfoundland, but I cannot allow him to confuse Bridgeton with Shettleston.

Mr. White

I suppose it must have been my consternation when I found I had said New Zealand when I meant Newfoundland that made me commit the major error of confusing Shettleston with Bridge-ton. We cannot disguise from ourselves that the present economic situation in Newfoundland is very largely due to conditions which are temporary. There has been an expenditure of large sums of money by Americans and others. American dollars have been spent there for purposes which will come to an end, if they have not already ended. Also, one cannot disguise the fact that the thousands of tons of zinc concentrates at present being developed in this Island will be exhausted at the end of 10 years, and the present export of a million tons of quite good but not superlatively good iron ore is something upon which we cannot depend. The same considerations apply to the export of newsprint. But the point which I rose to make and which I will not labour is that the people of Newfoundland must be consulted in this matter, and that the one thing which is intolerable is that these gallant people should not have any say in their future.

Captain Peter MacDonald (Isle of Wight)

I feel at very much the same disadvantage as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in discussing this very important problem, because the Deputy Prime Minister, who is Secretary of State for the Dominions, did not comply with the request I made to him the last time this question, was raised and provide the House with a White Paper telling us what is the situation in Newfoundland at the present time. I should have thought it would have been quite reasonable for him to do that without affecting security considerations, in view of the fact that he had just returned from a trip to Newfoundland. There were one of two points in the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton which I think ought to be corrected. First, it should not go out to the country that the Constitution of Newfoundland was filched from that Island entirely against its will. His second point was that, the prosperity of that country having been restored to it, the Constitution should also be restored to it immediately. The answer to the first point is that the Constitution of Newfoundland was not taken away by this House. The change was made as a result of a petition to His Majesty supported by a unanimous vote of both Legislatures in Newfoundland, and on the recommendation of a Royal Commission set up at the request of the Newfoundland Government. It was as a result of those things that this House granted the request of the Newfoundland Government and came to their assistance. In spite of what the Deputy Prime Minister said at that time, for which he will probably have to answer, the Government of that day very reluctantly felt obliged to come to the assistance of the Newfoundland Government, and the only way they thought they could do so was by appointing a Commission.

On the point of the prosperity to the Island, the first question is whether prosperity has been restored to it, and, if so, whether there is any prospect that: it will be of a permanent character, and after that, there is the question of what are the wishes of the Newfoundland people. As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, the bargain which the Newfoundland people provided that when the Island was self-supporting responsible government on request from the people of Newfoundland should be restored. Out of that, three questions arise—Is the Island self-supporting now; is the prosperity permanent or of a temporary character; and what are the wishes of the Newfoundland people as regards the restoration of self-Government. In spite of the efforts of the excellent Commission which was set up to administer the affairs of Newfoundland, for years before the war this House had to provide a grant-in-aid up to £1,000,000 for the Newfoundland Government. Therefore, certainly up to 1940, it cannot be said that Newfoundland was self-supporting. Since then, it is true, a measure of prosperity has come to Newfoundland, such as everybody is glad to see; and though it is spoken of as being of a temporary character everyone would like to see it remain. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton read communications Which he had received from financiers and friends, and made a great point about upholding the finances. He read a quotation from the Royal Bank of Canada. As has been said, he is coming into the Imperial fold.

As to the desires of the Newfoundland people on the question of the restoration of their Constitution, I am told that there is a great difference of opinion among different sections of the community. One section, I am told, would like to have the Constitution restored immediately, others would prefer to have it restored in stages, and yet others who have grave doubts of the wisdom of restoring it until some considerable time after the war and they know the real position of their finances. Until opinion is crystallised in some form, I do not think it is possible or advisable for His Majesty's Government to take any such drastic step as restoring the Constitution at the present time. There is another reason, and a very good reason, why it should not be done now, and that is that most of the male population are serving away from home on active service of one form or another. It would be hard to crystallise opinion while that important section of the community was absent. It would be unwise to set up a Constitution until those who are now serving abroad have had an opportunity of expressing their views. That is for the people of Newfoundland themselves to decide. When it is going to be decided or how it is to be decided I do not know, but I am convinced that if opinion in Newfoundland can be crystallised and it becomes evident to this House that the majority of the people there wish their Constitution restored to them, and are satisfied that the prosperity they are enjoying is of a permanent nature or sufficiently permanent for them to take the risk, there would be no hesitation on the part of any section in this House about restoring the Constitution.

Reference has been made to the contributions made by Newfoundland to our war effort, and I have taken some trouble to find out exactly what it is that these wonderful people have done and are doing for the war. Though I always knew that Newfoundland was as loyal a part of the British Empire as any, I was really amazed to find what the people there have been able to do. They contributed the whole of the surplus of 11,000,000 dollars as a loan to the British Exchequer, free of interest. They contributed two artillery regiments, one of which distinguished itself in Tunisia. They have provided an air squadron, and in other air squadrons many Newfoundland men have distinguished themselves. They have pro-, vided a very large number of recruits for the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, and if the First Lord of the Admiralty were here, I am sure he would say they were doing magnificent work sometimes work which only people as hardy as the Newfoundland people could do. In addition to that—and it is a vital addition—they have provided air bases in their Island which have been used by America, Canada and ourselves. Further, they have produced, as "has already been mentioned, zinc, iron ore and wood pulp, and they have also, as we have been reminded, provided a forestry unit which is doing magnificent work in Scotland. Then there were wood pulp and fish. I do not know what the Ministry of Food would do to-day but for the contributions Newfoundland is making hi providing fish. We all agree that that is a very proud record for an Island with a population of 300,000 to 400,000 people. It proves that Newfoundland is one of the most loyal and devoted of our old Dominions and Colonies, and I am convinced that this House would wish not only their prosperity but self-government to be restored to them at the earliest possible moment and for all time.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

I am sure that the House is indebted to the hon. Member who introduced this subject to-day. It is of very great importance, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman in the tributes he paid to the Island. I do not pronounce the name in the same way as he does, but I agree with his remarks about the gallant Newfoundlanders, whom I had an opportunity of meeting when, I visited their country upon a Parliamentary delegation a number of years ago. That is why I thought I ought to speak from my place to-day on this very important subject.

At the earliest practicable moment, full Dominion status should be restored to Newfoundland, if that is the status they desire. An hon. Member on the other side of the House has suggested an alternative, which it would obviously be a matter for Newfoundland to choose. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken reminded us that it was by the will of the Newfoundlanders themselves that their country ceased to be a Dominion and was put under a Commission. I was there some considerable time before the economic blizzard began. There was no economic blizzard in 1926. I forget the precise time, but it was at any rate before the blizzard had begun. We were told in the numerous official contacts we had with legislative authorities, representative Ministers, representatives of business organisations and everyone we met in Newfoundland, that they would prefer not to have the status of a Dominion, for reasons which they thought excellent and which I do not wish to enter into now. The reasons had to do with the financial difficulties of the country, which were of a very grave character.

While paying this tribute to the Newfoundlanders, I would hope that they are being prevented from being so excessively brave as they were during the last war. I happened at one time to be attached to the 29th Division when it made an attack upon Beaumont Hamel, and we had a Newfoundland regiment. I was doing a special job, and two Newfoundland officers were detailed to me for the purpose of this job, very much against their will. I regret to state that my job kept them about 500.yards behind the front line, and only those two officers were not killed or wounded in the attack. The Newfoundlanders were amazingly brave. You simply could not hold them back. They are no doubt wonderful people at sea, on the land and, this time, v no doubt, in the air. They are a great people, and at the earliest practicable moment they should have the form of Dominion status that they wish to have.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has not convinced me, and I do not know whether he has convinced the House, that he is in touch with representative opinion in Newfoundland. Let me tell him why. The political divisions of Newfoundland are extraordinary. They are not as between Liberal, Labour and Conservative, but as between those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Free Church community. I should have been more impressed if my hon. Friend had produced evidence from the leaders of the religious communities instead of from the chamber of commerce with which he has been in such close touch. They are the people more qualified to speak for Newfoundland than those whom he mentioned.

Mr. Maxton

They were the people in charge of political affairs during the difficult times.

Dr. Guest

Who were in charge of political affairs?

Mr. Maxton

The persons whom the hon. Gentleman indicated I should have consulted.

Dr. Guest

I prefer them because they did then, and do now, represent political opinion in Newfoundland. I think I am right in saying that the Commissioners themselves have to be appointed according to their religious denomination, in order to be acceptable to the people of Newfoundland—which I think is fairly striking proof of what I have just been saying.

I had another reason for rising, and it was to refer to what must strike anyone who goes to Newfoundland. I understand that the situation has not changed very much 6ince I was there. I refer to the lopsided development, or lack of development, of that country. The most recent information I have is from a conversation with the representative of Newfoundland in this country. I asked him a simple question, "Do you still import all your potatoes?" He said "Yes." They have so little agriculture that they do not even grow potatoes. They do not grow even the most necessary things. They export fish, the products of their mines and their lumber. They are living on an export economy, and they are not producing the things necessary for use inside their own country. There is only one thing to ask the Minister, and it is a very serious question. I do not know whether I was mistaken when he made the announcement some time ago of the sending of that informal Mission to Newfoundland. I think he suggested that there was not to be a report. It seems that this is exactly the time when there ought to be a report upon conditions in Newfoundland. It is just the time when helpful suggestions may be made to that country as to how their resources might be better balanced and better developed than they are at the present time.

There is no reason so far as their climate is concerned why very considerable agricultural activities should not be carried on, and there is every reason why that should be done. It would be an advantage from every point of view. When I was there I remember going into the parts of St. John's and other towns where the fisherfolk lived. They were living in very poor circumstances indeed and on a very low standard of life. I think it would be very much improved if Newfoundland could develop some variety of agriculture. Another of the great exports of Newfoundland which I did not mention is its manhood. I was told that there were more Newfoundlanders in the United States than there were in Newfoundland, and I was told half jokingly the other day that there were more Newfoundlanders in this country than in Newfoundland. I do not think that is accurate, but there is certainly a very large number of Newfoundlanders in our Services now, and I am sure that we all welcome their help.

If the Mission, when it goes out there, were to make a report upon the possibilities of economic development in Newfoundland with a view to the raising and improving of agriculture there, and in order to produce a very much larger proportion of the food they require, I think it would add substantially to the development of Newfoundland life and make the basis of their economic development much sounder and more secure than at the present time. It is very unfortunate for a country to be always exporting things and having to buy with money everything it requires. That is not a satisfactory form of economy. In view of the immense importance of Newfoundland in the future in regard to civil aviation, which I do not think can be exaggerated, and also with regard to shipping and naval security, which it is also very difficult to exaggerate, it is most important that this House should have the opportunity of benefiting from the observations that members of the Mission may be able to make and of those observations being conveyed to them in the form of a report designed to help the economic welfare of Newfoundland, and with a view also to the restoration of full self-government to those people at the earliest possible moment.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Attlee)

I am very glad that in this Debate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) and the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) have paid tribute to the great work that the people of Newfoundland are doing in the war. The country has a small population, but they have made a great contribution in men to the Fighting Services, and in their work in logging, on bases and everything else. I think we need to remember that. We have over here a large number of people from Newfoundland. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) began by referring to a Debate or series of Debates in this House in which there was a long Sitting and during which both he and I very much opposed this form of Government for Newfoundland. My hon. Friend seemed to think that I am a bit ashamed of having done that. I am not, in the least. I adhere to what I said at that time. I dislike what was done at that time, I dislike intensely that we should have an absence of self-government in that community.

Therefore, as soon as I became Dominions Secretary I began to look into this question to see what was the position of Newfoundland now, because they came directly under my responsibility. I naturally thought first of all, Has there been a request for restoration of self-government? My hon. Friend has momentarily forgotten that the abolition of self-government was done by request from the people of Newfoundland.

Mr. Maxton

I did not forget that fact at all, but I have some knowledge of the pressure that was put on Newfoundland to make that request.

Mr. Attlee

That was done, but I do not know about the pressure. That was the fact, and of course it is for the people of Newfoundland to decide when they want self-government restored. I found that there had not been that request of recent years. Indeed, the hon. Member himself had not raised Newfoundland since a supplementary question, I think in 1939. Obviously the matter had not been agitated very much. However, I thought that the right thing to do was to try to find out what the people of Newfoundland were thinking of this matter, and so I tried to make personal contacts. The first thing I did was to go to Scotland. I am sure hon. Members have contacted there a very large number of people from Newfoundland who are working in the logging, and there is also a regiment which was for some time stationed within a few miles of the home of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton. I talked with and saw those people who had come from Newfoundland to work and fight for us. The next thing I thought I would do was to go over to the Island myself. Accordingly, I paid a visit there. I stayed for some time in the country. I also went to some of the out posts. Travel is not very easy there, and one is very often hung up, but I did get around a good deal, and I saw a pretty fair number of people in Newfoundland. I met most of the leading traders who belong to the Board of Trade, as well as lawyers, clergy, trade union leaders, fishermen and people of all kinds.

The first thing one realised there was that there was no unanimity of opinion on this question. Indeed, my hon. Friend will have read from the resolution of the Board of Trade that they expressly stated that they realised that there is a great division of opinion, (1) as to whether any change should be made now; (2) as to what kind of change that should be. My hon. Friend was wrong in thinking that this resolution was supported by the trade unions, because the Board of Trade asked for a Royal Commission. The trade union group did not want a Royal Commission; they wanted immediate self-government, which is a different thing. I think the hon. Member was thinking of the West Coast Association, who supported the idea of an inquiry.

I found among all sections of society that there were wide divergencies. On the whole, broadly speaking, the view was that it was inexpedient to, have changes during the war. There were very wide divergences of opinion as to what form of Constitution should be set up, though there was a great preponderance of opinion that there should be a form of constitutional government, but I found very few who wanted to go back just to what they had before. I am rather inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that there was perhaps some exaggeration about the way in which things were carried on at that time. I think there was a lack of balance, but there is no doubt that they do not look back with any great satisfaction to the institutions they had then. I talked with people of all kinds, and they all said, "You have to consider how it is to be done." Then there was the point of the economic background. The hon. Member said I was sure to bring that up. I am very concerned, because there is an Island of decent, straightforward, fine people who are living at a very low standard of life. One has to look into the resources of that Island to see what kind of standard it can support and what kind of organisation will give it that standard. If you are to have a very expensive form of government, you may have too big overheads for the very small population of a very large Island. All these things are bound together. On that visit I and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Arthur Jenkins) travelled round the Island and talked to people. Certainly one thing stuck out a mile, that conditions are not just the same as they were 10 years ago. There have been 10 years in which the people have had no self-government. It is one of the troubles, in my opinion, that in that Island, while there is a sort of municipality in St. John's and there are new very weak local councils in two small places, there is no local government in that Island at all. Therefore, they have not had the practice of self-government. I do not think it is fair, when people have been deprived of the practice of self-government, to suggest that all at once the whole position should be thrown back. I think there must be time to think it out and discuss things. The people of Newfoundland have thrown themselves into this war. They have been doing great work on the bases. I do not think they have had the time to think out very closely the kind of questions involved in the future Constitution of the Island and the future economic life of the Island.

It was suggested by the Board of Trade that there should be an immediate Royal Commission. That was a change of view from what I had experienced out there. I am not sure that it was a very permanent view. It followed on a meeting of protest against certain Excess Profits Taxes which had been put on, and which had caused a certain amount of feeling. I am not sure there was anything there on which one could act straight away.

I think we have to consider the point that there is not unanimity of view that there ought to be a Royal Commission now, first, because people are busy on the war; and second, the reason was published in one of the local papers in a very cogent letter from a man serving over here. He said, "What about us people serving over here?" which is something like 25 per cent. of the men between 20 and 40. They are vitally concerned in the future. Is it fair, the writer of that letter asked, that a decision on the future of the country should be made when they were out of the country, when they were fighting for it and could take no part?

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Canadian Forces were able to vote last year by absent voters' ballot.

Mr. Attlee

I am very much obliged for that information, but to vote in an election under an established Constitution is a very different matter from having to deal with a situation when one is right away from one's country, where there has not been self-government, and when most of those who are away have never had a chance of voting because they are young. Therefore, I do not think the hon. Member's suggestion is really helpful. I came to the conclusion that what I wanted to see in Newfoundland at the present time was thinking on these problems and understanding of these problems. I thought it would be helpful to send out Parliamentarians to make contact, talk to people, and bring back to this House a very valuable addition to the knowledge of Members of this House on Newfoundland, because one can very easily get out of date. I am much obliged to people who have been to Newfoundland, but they would be the first to admit that what they saw 10 years ago needs bringing up to date.

I have also in mind the view that it was a mistake that we had not people of Parliamentary experience from here on the Commission of Government. I would say that it has been a mistake that throughout this period we have not had adequate numbers of people educating themselves in democracy, both by precept and by practice. For that reason I am sorry there has not been more development of local self-government, though that seems to evoke a good deal of local opposition. While I think the hon. Member is perfectly right that if there is a demand it should be met, and the conditions fulfilled, the hon. Member realises perfectly well that this prosperity is temporary, it is a war prosperity, and a lot of hard thought and hard work will have to be done by the people of Newfoundland with all the help we and anyone else can give them if we are to set up a satisfactory standard of life for those people in the post-war period. I think a very large number of Newfoundland people would agree that what is needed now is full discussion and consideration.

Let me say that I was obliged to the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) for his suggestion. That is one of many other methods, because it is not necessarily the right thing to take the system we have here in Westminster and put it down in St. John's, Newfoundland. The principles have to be adapted to the particular conditions there. That is why I am obliged to my three hon. Friends who are going out. I know they will receive a very warm welcome and will bring back to this House valuable additional knowledge. I do not think it would be advisable for them to have to give a written report. In this matter, where we are dealing with our own kinsmen, it is these personal contacts which are so valuable. Incidentally, I believe that the personal contacts that the people of Newfoundland serving, over here have made—and I know that they have received much hospitality from the people of Scotland—will be enormously valuable to them in the future. The hon. Member thought this was a method of dodging the demands. Let me say that the demands to which the hon. Member has referred came along after my decision to invite hon. Members to visit Newfoundland. It takes a long time to fix these things. The question of sending out Members came to me and was taken up by me long before there was any question of these resolutions being passed. It anticipated them.

Mr. Maxton

The right hon. Gentleman and I had a private conversation which I believe was completely candid on his part, and which I appreciated very much, but he never mentioned this.

Mr. Attlee

I think the hon. Member has forgotten. I remember that conversation very well. I think that if he will think back, he will recollect that I did tell him that this was a proposal I was making. I rather thought he approved at the time; but I had taken up this matter long before there was any question of a demand for a Royal Commission. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member did not wake up on this question until I had taken action and gone out there myself.

Mr. Maxton

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I accompanied him on part of his journey on that occasion.

Mr. Attlee

I think the hon. Gentleman will realise that from the time I took office I have been concerned with this matter, because I want to see restoration of self-government in Newfoundland, but it must not be imagined that it is a question of our giving, withholding or imposing. It is essentially a question for the people of Newfoundland themselves—all the people of Newfoundland—and may I say that that includes the younger people who are the people who are fighting and working in this country now.

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