HL Deb 21 April 1853 vol 126 cc146-51

put the question, of which he had given notice, on the subject of our colonial fisheries, and said: My Lords, when I had the honour to hold the office now held by my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) the attention of the Government was called to the complaints of our North American Colonies, in consequence of encroachments by the fishermen and inhabitants of the United States upon the British fisheries on the American coast. In consequence of those complaints, although the fishery season had already commenced, we thought it our duty at once to protect Her Majesty's subjects in that quarter of the world. Accordingly the late Government issued instructions by which a smaller class of vessels than those usually employed were sent to protect those fisheries against the encroachments of the Americans. This step, it appears, produced some jealousy on the part of the American Government. The late Mr. Webster having, however, considered the question, and having fairly understood the object and intention of the British Government, at once gave his cordial assistance to Her Majesty's Government to repress any further encroachment, and finally agreed that negociations as quickly as possible should be entered into between the Government of the United States and the British Government, not only with a view of settling the question of the fisheries, but also of bringing to a successful result other negociations which were pending between the two Governments, and which embraced a far wider field. The step which the late Government took upon that occasion in sending out vessels to protect our rights is, I think, one which must be considered by all parties as undoubtedly successful. Although the negociations upon this point had not commenced, a few captures were made of American vessels, found evidently fishing between the three marine miles indicated by the treaty to be our boundary, and to belong to the British Crown. The result was, that so successful a season for the British fishermen on the shores of Nova Scotia and our other American Colonies had never before been heard of. This fact will appear by the papers on the table of your Lordships' House, which will also show how very valuable those fisheries have been proved to be—I say much more valuable than they were supposed to be by any former Government. I trust that the noble Earl opposite will excuse any anxiety I may feel in asking this question, in reference to the future safety and protection of those important fisheries. The Admiral appointed to that station by the late Government, Sir George Seymour, displayed throughout the transactions the highest ability; and it was that officer's good fortune to meet another, who was equally prudent and skilful, to assist him in preventing these encroachments—namely, Commodore Perry. No captures have been made in disputed waters pending these negociations, but they have hitherto been entirely confined to American vessels found fishing within the zone I have mentioned—namely, three marine miles of the shore of the British possessions, concerning which there is no dispute. This country cannot but feel deeply indebted to the exertions, the prudence, and the ability displayed by Admiral Sir George Seymour during the time he conducted, not only the protection of those fisheries, but also the negociations that took place between him and other parties in respect to this matter; and I trust that if that officer is again to return to that station, Her Majesty's Government will receive with respect and attention any advice or information which he may think it necessary to submit to them—which will always be given with that modesty which so often characterises real merit. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will fully appreciate that advice, and will give it all that attention which we when in office felt it to be our duty to give it. Mr. Webster had agreed that negociations should take place, which should include, amongst other important questions, a settlement of the fisheries question. It has, however, pleased Providence to remove that statesman from this world; and this unfortunate circumstance checked the course of proceedings that were then going on. About the same time a change in the Government of this country took place; and from that hour I am utterly ignorant of what has occurred upon the subject of these negociations, which were begun by Mr. Webster and Mr. Crampton, and which were approved of by the then President of the United States. I now wish to ask the noble Earl, whether, consistently with his public duty, he feels himself at liberty to inform the House what has taken place since the period at which he entered office; how the negociations now stand; how far advanced these negociations are between us and the American Government; and whether they are likely to be concluded this season? Considering that we are now at the commencement of the fishery season, I wish also to ask, whether it is the intention of the Government to continue the protection of those fisheries, especially of those in shore, upon the same understanding, and in the same manner, as the late Government had acted in respect to them?


My Lords, in reply to the question of my noble Friend, I have to inform him that Her Majesty's Minister at Washington (Mr. Crampton), in conformity with instructions he received from my noble Friend, Lord John Russell, and in pursuance of the desire of the President of the United States, entered into a negociation at Washington for making arrangements by which the commercial relations between the United States and this country would be placed on a better footing. Mr. Crampton received the most cordial assurance from both the President and the Secretary of State of their agreement in the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government, and they expressed their belief that the wished-for convention might be concluded upon satisfactory terms. Mr. Crampton, at their request, prepared the project of a convention, upon which a difficulty arose, and objections were raised, which were, however, considered in the most friendly spirit. When the President, in his annual message to Congress, declared that in his opinion the two subjects—namely, that of the fisheries, and that of the reciprocity of trade, had better be embodied in two separate conventions, Mr. Crampton stated that he had good reasons for thinking that such a proposition would be objectionable to Her Majesty's Government. Mr. Crampton's project was, however, sent home, and was agreed to, with some modifications suggested by Lord John Russell, and who expressed his earnest desire that it might be concluded, together with a hope that it would be received as a pledge that the two Governments would be prepared to carry on their respective relations in a spirit of justice and liberality. This proposition was met entirely in the same spirit by Mr. Everett; but some fresh objections and difficulties, which were unforeseen then, arose, and a further reference to this country was required. It then became manifestly impossible to carry on the matter further with any hope of bringing it to a successful issue during the time the late Government of the United States would continue in office. The question now may therefore be considered as under negotiation; and, being so, I am sure that my noble Friend would be the last man to expect, under such circumstances, that I could enter into any details respecting it at the present moment, as any such course of proceeding on my part might not tend to the advantage of the public service. I am sure that the noble Earl will not require any assurance from me that I feel the zeal, the ability, and the good judgment which have characterised Mr. Crampton's proceedings, will lead that gentleman to omit no opportunity of pressing this question on the attention of the Government of the United States, and of bringing it to a conclusion alike honourable to both Governments. With respect to the other question—namely, the protection of our fisheries, I hare to state that precisely the same instructions which were sent out last year by the late Government, and for the same purpose, have already been given. These instructions seem to me to have been framed with great care and caution, and I believe that no alteration whatever has been made in them. My noble Friend will no doubt feel much satisfaction in hearing that these instructions will be carried into effect by the same gallant Admiral to whom the noble Earl addressed them last year; and I am sure that this distinguished officer will evince this year the same determination to protect every British right, and while doing so, to pay respect to the rights of others, as he has done heretofore. I need hardly say that in the praise bestowed by the noble Earl upon the gallant Admiral I entirely concur, and perhaps, what is of more consequence, it is concurred in by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who some time ago addressed a letter to Sir George Seymour, thanking him for the important services he had rendered to this country, and saying that he thought it to be his duty to bestow upon him the first good-service Admiralty pension that was vacant.


My Lords, I think that the reply which we have just heard from the noble Earl opposite is one which must be deemed satisfactory to all parties. After the statement made by the noble Earl that this question is still a subject for negotiation, it will of course be impossible for us to seek for any further information as to the progress of these negotiations, inasmuch as such a disclosure might prove injurious to the public service. I hope, however, that without any official reserve, I may be permitted to call the noble Earl's attention to the peculiar position in which the colony of Nova Scotia stands in regard to this question. Now, the interests of Nova Scotia, of Canada, and of New Brunswick, are not identical; for Nova Scotia is peculiarly interested, not only in the general fisheries, but in the in-shore fishery, which, as a matter of right belongs to that colony. Therefore, any general arrangement entered into which would allow the Americans to partake of the advantages of the in-shore fishery, would be peculiarly injurious to Nova Scotia; and I hope that if a concession be made, the interests of Nova Scotia in this respect will be strictly maintained. There is one article in which the general commerce of the United States is deeply interested, and which it is most important for that country that the arrangement in respect to it shall be placed on a satisfactory footing—namely, fish. But Nova Scotia is not only deeply interested in this article, but it is also interested in other articles, in reference to which it is in the power of the United States to afford her much advantage—namely, iron and coal. I, therefore, only hope that in the negotiations that are going forward on this subject, Her Majesty's Government will bear in mind the peculiar sacrifices which Nova Scotia may be called upon to make; and at the same time the compensation for such sacrifices which it is in the power of the United States to offer to Nova Scotia.