HL Deb 31 July 1866 vol 184 cc1700-3

said, as he understood the project of the Confederation of the British Provinces of North America was now more likely to be carried into effect than at any former period, and that the assent of most of the colonies had been obtained to it. He also understood that delegates from several of the Provinces had arrived in this country to confer with the Colonial Secretary on the subject. Certainly no time could be more opportune than the present was for the passing of such a measure, when the United States had shown so friendly a feeling in interfering to prevent the invasion of Canada, and the colonists had behaved with such gallantry and loyalty in repelling invasion. No doubt we were now approaching the close of the Session, and there would be great difficulty in passing the necessary measure on the subject—still, the subject ought not to pass sub silentio. He would, therefore, ask the Secretary for the Colonies to inform the House, Whether he intended to submit any measure upon this subject in the present Session; whether it would not be desirable to act immediately in this matter, or whether he saw any reason for delay?


It would be impossible to overrate the importance of the subject to which the noble Lord has drawn attention. I should say that, of all the questions that come within the range of the Colonial Administration, there is none that is more important than the question of the Confederation of the British North American Colonies; it is also of vast importance to the inhabitants of those colonies, as affecting their own future fortunes and the destinies of the colonies themselves. This is a question not of to-day merely—it is one that for several years has been the subject of anxious thought and deliberation by successive Governments. It dates back certainly as far as the time of Lord Durham. No doubt the chief result of the matter at that time was the legislative union of the two Canadas; still, it is clear that Lord Durham's Report contemplated the incorporation of the other British North American Provinces. From that time no active practical steps were taken until 1858, when Sir Edmund Head, Governor General of the British North American Provinces, in opening his Parliament, announced the revival of the question of Confederation. That year delegates came over to this country and made proposals to the Home Government. These were entertained; but no progress was made, and the delegates returned to North America without having accomplished the object they had in view. In October, 1864, delegates from Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward's Island met at Quebec for the consideration of this subject, and they passed a long series of resolutions relative to the terms and principles upon which a measure of this nature could be carried out, which have since been known by the name of the Quebec Resolutions. Difficulties arose and delays intervened; and it is only a fortnight since we received what may be regarded as the last piece of documentary evidence required of the feeling in favour of incorporation. We have received the Resolutions of the Assembly of New Brunswick announcing their final adhesion to the scheme, and requesting the Government to appoint delegates to confer upon the matter. On Saturday last the delegates of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia reached this country, and it is understood that they are to be followed in a few days by the Canadian deputies. This may seem to be a very lengthy and tedious mode of procedure; but I am bound to say, looking to the great magnitude of this question and the many details involved in it, the great interest, both national and individual, raised by this discussion, I am not surprised at the delay. I am bound to say further that the conclusion at which the colonies have arrived in favour of a great Confederation has not been arrived at without great sacrifice of personal and local feeling; but it comes to us as the unanimous decision of the local Government of the colonies. Under these circumstances, I conceive it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government not only to lend a respectful attention to the representations which these delegates may make to us, but, if I may say so, to meet them half way, and to facilitate the object they have in view, so far as they are in conformity with the wishes of the colonies and with the interests and policy of this country. And when I say "consistent with the interests and policy of this country," I mean that everything which can deepen and broaden the constitutional foundations of those great colonies and give life and strength to their political organization must be not only consistent, but identical with the interests and policy of this country. The noble Lord asks me as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. I can only say in answer that this great measure raises so many and such complicated questions that time, at all events, must be given for the consideration of them by the Government and the delegates. The Canadian delegates have not yet arrived, nor, as I have said, is it absolutely certain that they have left Canada. Under these circumstances, looking at the advanced period of the Session, looking also at the absence of those delegates whose presence is absolutely necessary to the practical consideration of the question, it is obviously impossible for the Government to submit to Parliament a measure on so important and complicated a matter. It will be my duty during the recess to enter fully and frankly into communication with the delegates of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and to endeavour with them to arrive—as I trust we may—at such a conclusion as will be satisfactory both to the colonies and the mother country.


As this is a question which affects the interest of the great colonies over which I recently presided, I trust your Lordships will permit me to make one or two remarks. I think that Her Majesty's Government act wisely in postponing any legislation on this question. It is one so vast and of such vital importance to the colonies affected that, although I am in favour of the union of the North American Colonies, I feel that justice could not be done if it were attempted this year. The question is one which demands the most careful deliberation and much consideration. Although the union has received the sanction of the Legislature of the colony over which I presided, still there is in that colony considerable opposition to the measure; and so much does the success of the union depend upon the unanimity and the cordiality with which it is received by the people, that I trust Her Majesty's Government will use the time they will now have at their disposal in endeavouring to frame a measure, to be submitted to Parliament next year, which shall overcome the objections which are now, I believe, conscientiously entertained by the opponents of the scheme. I do not concur with their views, for I think that the union of the North American Colonies is essentially necessary; but, at the same time, there are details which it will be well to consider with a view to removing objections that do exist. I trust, therefore, Her Majesty's Government will give careful consideration to the arguments of those who oppose union, and that they will succeed in framing a measure that will meet with universal approval.