HL Deb 27 June 1854 vol 134 cc729-33



My Lords, I am desirous of asking a question, of which I have given notice to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Your Lordships are, of course, aware, that there is a rumour that some treaty is negotiating, or has been actually signed, between this country and the United States relative to the fisheries on the coasts of the British Colonies. There is also a report—and it is on that point I am desirous of having an answer from my noble Friend —that that treaty will contain a proviso by which American traders will be allowed to establish factories for the purpose of curing their fish on the coasts of the British Colonies. My Lords, I conceive this is a matter of extreme importance, and I am therefore desirous of ascertaining at as early a period as possible whether the treaty so in course of negotiation, or perhaps actually concluded, contains any provision to the effect that I have described. I cannot conceal from your Lordships, that I think very serious injury would be done to the colonial interests of this country, and to the interests of this empire in general, if any such permission were granted to the United States.


My Lords, I am happy to say that the treaty, to which my noble Friend has just alluded, has been negotiated and concluded between this country and the United States. That treaty only reached my hands yesterday afternoon, having been forwarded by Lord Elgin from Quebec; and I really have not yet had time to give it all the attention which its importance deserves. But even if I had, I should not think it proper, at the present time, to enter into any discussion of the provisions of a treaty which has not yet been approved by the Senate of the United States, and has not been ratified in this country. My Lords, it appeared to Her Majesty's Government that the return of Lord Elgin to Canada afforded an opportunity which ought not to be neglected, of endeavouring to settle those numerous questions which, for years past, have been so embarrassing to the two Governments. One of those questions especially—that relating to the fisheries—has given rise to annually increasing causes of contention, and has sometimes threatened collisions, which I believe have only been averted for the last two years by the firmness and moderation of Sir George Seymour and of the British and American naval commanders, and by that spirit of friendship and forbearance which has always characterised the officers of both navies. But, my Lords, your Lordships are also aware that there are other questions which have given rise to embarrassing discussions between the Governments of the two countries—questions which involve the commercial relations of our North American possessions with the United States; and that those questions, which involve very divergent interests, have become so complicated as to render their solution a matter of extreme difficulty. But Her Majesty's Government thought that no man was more entitled to the confidence of those Colonies than Lord Elgin, in consequence of his untiring energy and great exertions for the promotion of their interests, and of the success which had attended his endeavours. It was, therefore, probable that any arrangement which Lord Elgin might make on their behalf would be viewed by the colonists with favour. And here let me mention—for it is but an act of justice—that, in confiding this important trust to Lord Elgin, no want of confidence was exhibited or intended towards Mr. Crampton. His conduct has merited, and has received, the entire approbation of the Government. But Lord Elgin, as Governor General of Canada, and of the British Possessions in North America, possessed qualifications for conducting this particular negotiation, which were necessarily peculiar to himself. Lord Elgin was met by Mr. Marcy, on the part of the United States Government, in a spirit of the most friendly candour. And, indeed, if it had not been so, it would have been impossible for him to have gone through the preliminary discussions which were the necessary foundation of the treaty. That treaty, however, has been concluded, and I can inform my noble Friend, with reference to the particular question which he has asked me, that it contains no new provision whatever for enabling American citizens to establish factories upon the British territories. As far as I have been able to institute a comparison, the words are nearly the same, and the principle is quite the same, as in the treaty of 1818; because, although some concessions have been made upon the part of the colonists, and although they have not obtained all the privileges which they claimed, I nevertheless believe—and my opinion is strengthened by that of Lord Elgin—that the treaty will prove of signal benefit to the colonists, and will tend in a great measure to promote and advance their prosperity. I believe also that the United States will derive—as they will be entitled to derive—reciprocal advantages, and will be benefited to a great extent by the facilities which will be given for the development of their internal resources. I trust, therefore, that nothing will occur to mar the completion of this great work, which I firmly believe, more than any other event of recent times, will contribute to remove all differences between two countries whose similarity of language and affinity of race, whose enterprise and industry, ought to unite them in the bonds of cordial friendship, and to perpetuate feelings of mutual confidence and good-will.


inquired, whether any concession had been obtained from the United States with reference to the coasting trade between New York and California?


could only say, that steps had been taken with that view, but he was unable to report much progress. The American Government denied the parity of circumstances between their eastern coast and the coasting trade of this country; but although they admitted that England had granted some advantages with reference to our own coasting trade, yet they denied that these were sufficiently important to warrant our demand of reciprocal advantages with reference to their own eastern coast.


said, it had been confidently stated in the North American Colonies that the provisions of this treaty had been concluded subject to the approval of the provincial Legislatures of those colonies which were especially interested in the fisheries. He wished to ask whether any provision of that kind was contained in the treaty?


replied that there were provisions in the treaty, to the carrying out of which the consent of the Colonial Legislature would be necessary; but the Government had reason to anticipate, from the communications received from Lord Elgin, that their approval and concurrence would be obtained.


wished to know whether, if the Legislature of one colony should concur, and the Legislature of another colony should object, the whole would fall to the ground?


quite agreed that, with respect especially to the colonies interested in the fisheries, it was most important their assent should be obtained to an arrangement which would vitally affect their interests, yet he did not see that it was necessary that they should confirm the provisions of the treaty. He was afraid that if we had to consult the Colonies with respect to a treaty with a foreign country, the effect would be, that on such questions the Colonies would be independent.


said, it was, of course, exceedingly difficult and inconvenient to go into a discussion with reference to negotiations the whole facts connected with which were not yet before their Lordships' House. He could only say that this point had been considered very carefully; that legal opinions had been taken as to whether the provisions of the treaty would require confirmation by the local Legislatures in the different colonies; and that the legal opinions which were given were to the effect that the assent of the Colonial Legislatures was necessary to carry the provisions of the treaty into full and entire effect.


said, that if that were so, it would place the Colonial Legislatures above the Imperial Parliament, for the consent of Parliament was not necessary to a treaty entered into by the Crown; and how was it possible that the Legislature of a colony could have any right, with respect to the conclusion of a treaty with a foreign Power, which the Imperial Parliament did not possess?


repeated his protest as to the extreme inconvenience of discussing such questions in the absence of that full information which was essential to their being properly understood. He had never said that the Colonial Legislatures had any right with reference to the confirmation of a treaty which the Imperial Parliament did not possess. All that he had said was, that Acts of the Colonial Legislature would be necessary to give to certain provisions of the treaty full effect.

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