§ 45. Mr. Maxton
asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to make a statement about the restoration of self-government to Newfoundland.
§ 47. Sir Alan Herbert
asked the Prime Minister what is the policy of His Majesty's Government concerning the future of Newfoundland.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I propose, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to make a statement at the end of Questions.
§ The Prime Minister
In pursuance of the statement of policy made on behalf of the Coalition Government in December, 1943, which they fully endorse. His Majesty's Government have decided to set up in Newfoundland next year, as early as climatic conditions permit, an elected National Convention of Newfoundlanders. Elections to the Convention will be held broadly on the basis of the former Parliamentary constituencies. All adults will be entitled to vote, and candidates for election will be required to be bona fide residents in the districts they seek to represent. The Convention will be presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, and its terms of reference will be as follows:To consider and discuss amongst themselves, as elected representatives of the Newfoundland people, the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934, and bearing in mind the extent to which the high revenues of recent years have been due to wartime conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to His Majesty's Gov- 211 emment as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum.In order to assist the Convention, His Majesty's Government will make available to it when it meets the services of an expert adviser who could give guidance on constitutional forms and procedure; and they will also prepare for use of the Convention a factual and objective statement of the Island's financial and economic situation. This statement will be made available to Parliament at the same time.
In the meantime it is, of course, most important that the series of reconstruction measures which the Commission of Government already have in hand or are planning to introduce should proceed without interruption, and these will be pushed forward as rapidly as possible. The Commission have a full programme designed to meet the more pressing requirements of the Island over the next two or three years.
Our relations with Newfoundland have been so special and Newfoundlanders have played such a gallant part in the war that it would, I know, be the wish of us all to assure to any new Government which may take over in the Island the fairest possible start. But we must above all be careful not to promise what we may not be able to perform, and the special difficulties of our financial position over the next few years may well preclude us from undertaking fresh commitments.
The object of the procedure which His Majesty's Government propose is to enable the people of the Island to come to a free and informed decision as to their future form of government. I know the House, which has always been solicitous for their welfare, will wish them well in the exercise of their choice.
§ Mr. Eden
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the support of my hon. Friends on this side of the House in the step which he has just announced which, if I may so, seems a wise one in the interests of Newfoundland itself? We hope it will have the result we all desire, for we all feel a sense of gratitude for the contribution that that country has made during the years through which we have just passed.
§ Mr. Maxton
With regard to the Prime Minister's announcement, it seemed to me that it was the biggest blot on our democratic system that a nation that had self-government for many years should have it taken away. The Prime Minister mentioned that expert help would be sent out in the election of the Convention. Would he consider sending out now one or more additional Commissioners who would have the duty of assisting the islanders to prepare for the elections and the referendums?
§ The Prime Minister
I will certainly ask my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions to consider that matter, but I would have thought they could have gone ahead with the election preparations. The kind of help which they need and which we intend to send to them is the technical help on. constitutional and financial matters and so forth. If there were any need for more Commissioners, we would certainly send them provided we could do so.
§ Sir A. Herbert
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I ask him if he will congratulate not only the present Dominions Secretary but his predecessor on the very wise and generous announcement of policy which he has made?
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
I am certain that the Prime Minister is aware that his announcement will be received with great satisfaction in Newfoundland. It is a matter of great credit for this Parliament. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that never again will any Government in which he participates—I know it was not done by a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member —allow a Parliament to be closed down, and the franchise of a people to be taken away within the British Empire; and that whatever happens, never again will any British Parliament— [Interruption.] This matter is more important than procedure — [An Hon. Member: "It was a Tory Government that did it."] This is a very important matter. My point is that this country imposed taxation without representation. I want only an assurance from the Prime Minister that never again will that be done.
§ The Prime Minister
While I can certainly say that it is not the policy of this Government to take away representative institutions from any part of the British Empire, I am quite unable to pledge future Parliaments because Parliaments will do whatever they decide.
§ Captain Marsden
Is it not the case that Newfoundland, while still having full Dominion status, asked for our help? Do I understand the Prime Minister to suggest that if such a Dominion came again we should refuse that help? I should be very sorry to think that would happen.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think it is a profitable thing at the moment to go into the history of this matter. We must look to the future rather than to the gloomy past.