HL Deb 16 March 1837 vol 37 cc557-62
The Earl of Ripon

wished to put a question to his noble Friend, (Lord Glenelg) on a subject which appeared to him of considerable importance. Their Lordships would recollect that in the commencement of the present Session, his Majesty, in his speech read by his Majesty's Commissioners, called the attention of Parliament to the State of affairs in Lower Canada. Since that time, various documents had been laid on the table of the House; and it appeared by the votes of the other House of Parliament, that certain resolutions had been submitted to the consideration of that branch of the legislature, he presumed explanatory of the views of his Majesty's Government on the subject, and preparatory to the introduction of some legislative measure applicable to the exigencies of the case. The question which he had to put to his noble Friend was, therefore, this—What was the mode in which it was the intention of the Government to bring the subject under the notice of this House?—whether it was intended to proceed by way of resolution, or merely to invite their Lordships to consider any specific law or measure which might be sent up from the other House of Parliament? He did not purpose to avail himself of this opportunity to say anything that could cause the slightest discussion on this most important and difficult subject, and he should be sorry to say anything that could in the least embarrass the proceedings of Government or of Parliament in reference to it; but having himself had not a little to do with the relations between this country and Canada, and having applied considerable attention to all its details, he might be excused if he felt some anxiety to know what course his Majesty's Government intended to propose. It was obvious there were two modes which might be adopted. Either the House of Commons, having first approved the resolutions laid before them should send them to their Lordships to ask their assent to them, or, having passed those resolutions, they should pass a Bill, and send that Bill up to this House. He should be disposed to think, prima facie, that there might be considerable advantage in adopting the first of these courses; because, looking at the nature of the question itself—looking at the mode in which it affected or might affect an independent Legislature in another part of his Majesty's dominions—looking also at the solemn manner in which the attention of the Legis- lature here had been called to it, it might be expected that those interested in this question on the other side of the Atlantic would be disposed to attach great importance to resolutions proposed by one House of Parliament, and adopted by both branches of the Legislature. At the same time, he must confess it appeared to him, that even that course was not entirely free from difficulty; because if in the resolutions of the other House, when brought before their Lordships, there should appear—what he had no reason to expect, but still it was not impossible—anything which their Lordships would not think it right to agree to, and if their Lordships should feel themselves called on to propose in them any important or material amendments, it appeared to him that the effect of the proceeding as a mode of influencing the judgment of the Legislature of Canada, must be much diminished if its force were not wholly destroyed. Then, again, many persons prepared to vote for a specific measure, might be unwilling to vote for a previous declaration of principle, in which they might not concur. It was under these circumstances that he begged to ask whether his Majesty's Government had made up their minds as to the course to be pursued. But if his noble Friend thought that any disadvantage, even the slightest, would result from answering his question, he begged that his noble Friend would not answer it; and upon his assurance to that effect he should be perfectly satisfied. He would now state the motion of which he had given notice, and which was mixed up in a certain degree with this question. The paper he wished to move for was a return of the expense occasioned by the Commission sent to Lower Canada. It had been his intention to notice on the present occasion some points connected with the Report made by that Commission; but on reflection, he was satisfied that it would be more conformable to the principle which he wished to see acted on with regard to that matter if he abstained from making the comments he had contemplated. He thought it fit, however, that they should know what was the expense of that Commission. He asked for that information on grounds both general and special. On general grounds, however, it was quite obvio s that the expense of the Commission had considerably tended to increase the dissatisfaction which before prevailed; and on special grounds, because among the various productions that spring up in these days in such luxuriant profusion out of the political soil, nothing was more remarkable than the abundance of the crop of Commissioners. He could not help thinking that there might be very good reasons for exercising at least a moderate degree of vigilance respecting the growth of that species of expense; he could not help thinking that there was some danger, if a little vigilance were not exercised, that the crop of Commissions might grow to be a crop of evils. He begged further to say, that he had entertained doubts whether there was any necessity for appointing that Commission at all, and also as to the mode in which that Commission had been composed. He entertained doubts as to the necessity of the Commission, inasmuch as he thought there was no lack of information in this country with respect to Lower Canada to be found in the office over which his noble Friend presided, and over which it had been his lot to preside for a considerable time. There might have been found abundant communications from various well-informed parties; there were, besides, the Reports of Committees of the House of Commons, and further, there was, at the time the Commission was appointed, a gentleman in London, Mr. Viger, who was a quasi representative of the Assembly of Lower Canada, and than whom no Gentleman ever worked harder with his pen for a salary of 1,300l. a year—the amount which the Assembly of Lower Canada were so obliging as to pay him. He had frequently, at the request of that Gentleman, had interviews with him; and he should think, from the mass of information which he poured into the office, that no more complete knowledge than he was able to supply of the views, feelings, wishes, and course of proceeding-of the body, with respect to whom all these difficulties had arisen, could be desired. He believed there were many-individuals in this country whose opinions were very different from those of this gentleman, who would have had no objection to state their views to his Majesty's Government. In addition to Mr. Viger, there was at least one individual to whom he was sure his noble Friend never could have applied in vain for any Information which it was in his power to give, and of all men in this country, he was the most competent to furnish information that might be most implicitly relied on—he alluded to Sir J. Kempt, the late Governor of Lower Canada, who had shown himself as competent to the duty of Civil Government, as he was to that of conducting his Majesty's troops in the field.

Lord Glenelg

entirely concurred with the noble Earl as to the extreme importance of this subject—a subject, he would add, which no one could call the attention of the House to with greater propriety than the noble Earl, whose acquaintance with all its bearings was necessarily so great. He was perfectly ready to answer the questions which had been put. The course intended to be taken was this. The House was aware that certain resolutions upon this subject had been brought before the House of Commons, upon which resolutions a measure had been framed. Some of these resolutions had been acceded to, and as soon as the remaining resolutions were agreed to, the whole of them would be communicated to their Lordships. In reference to the other question, respecting the expense of the Commission, he had not the slightest objection to the production of all the accounts. He quite concurred with the noble Earl as to the propriety of abstaining from any discussion on this subject on the present occasion. The question in all its bearings would, however, shortly come before their Lordships, and he would then endeavour to satisfy the noble Earl, who, he was sure, was open to conviction, of the necessity of establishing the Commission, and as to the composition and conduct of the Commission itself.

The Earl of Aberdeen

would suggest the propriety of sending to the House of Commons for a copy of the evidence on this subject taken before the Committee of 1834. The proceedings in the House of Commons had been stopped half way, and for an indefinite period, in consequence of that evidence not being before the House, it not having been printed, at the termination of the sitting of the Committee. It had now, however, been printed, and it was most desirable that it should be on their Lordships' table, in order that when the subject came before them, their proceedings might not be delayed, as those in the other House had been.

Lord Glenelg

was quite willing that the evidence should be sent for, The delay, however, in the other House had not originated with Ministers, who considered that the evidence already on the table of the House of Commons was quite sufficient to justify the resolutions.

A motion was made that this evidence should be sent for, and was agreed to.