HL Deb 14 April 1891 vol 352 cc469-72

My Lords, I wish to ask my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he intends to take the Second Reading of the Newfoundland Bill. "We only received the Bill—at least, I did not receive it until this morning; and I am informed—whether rightly or wrongly my noble Friend will know— that the delegates from Newfoundland are expected to arrive to-morrow. Then, unfortunately, we have not the advantage of the presence of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and it is obvious that this is a question which concerns the Foreign Office quite as much as it concerns the Colonial Office. Beyond this, although I have only glanced at the Bill, and I do not desire to anticipate any discussion upon it, I must say there are some details in it which appear to me require 'very careful examination. It seems to me it would be unwise on the part of this House, and I appeal to my noble Friend opposite whether it would be in the interest of the Government to press forward this measure (of course having due regard to such urgency as it has in itself) in the absence of the delegates from Newfoundland, and before we have had any opportunity of learning their views and what they may have to communicate concerning this very grave subject. I hope the rumour may be true that they are coming here with conciliatory proposals, and if they have anything to say which could be heard before the Bill is discussed, and which might lead to any modification of the Bill with a view to remove objections which are felt in the colony, and smooth the way for dealing with this exceedingly thorny subject, I am sure my noble Friend will rejoice as much as I should if that opportunity could be given. For these reasons I sincerely hope that my noble Friend will find it possible to give us ample time for the consideration of this important Bill before the Second Reading, and I beg to ask him when he intends to take the Second Reading.


My Lords, I have no intention of bringing this Bill on for Second Reading in the absence of my noble Friend the Marquess of Salisbury, because I feel as strongly as the noble Earl that the question is not purely of Colonial interest, but is also one closely connected with the affairs and procedure of the Foreign Office. I purpose, therefore, with the Marquess of Salisbury's concurrence, to take the Second Reading of the Bill on Monday. I hope earnestly that the rumour, which I had not myself heard, but which my noble Friend has referred to, that the delegates have come over with the desire of smoothing away difficulties, and if possible of assisting us in our efforts, may be correct. Certainly it is our hearty desire to co-operate as far as possible with the colony. I have seen, however, a statement in the newspapers that the delegates from Newfoundland or their agents would desire to be heard at the Bar of the House. I do not know at present whether that Report be true or not, and it will be time enough for us to consider whether that desire shall be acceded to or not when a Petition has been presented to Her Majesty's Government praying for that privilege. But I would point out what may not perhaps be understood, that the invariable practice has been, when parties have desired to be heard by Counsel, that the Bill should first be read a second time. That question was discussed in 1838 when a Bill was proposed to suspend the constitution of the Province of Lower Canada, and Mr. Grote then moved that Mr. Roebuck be heard at the Bar of the House of Commons as Counsel for the Province of Lower Canada. After some discussion it was decided that he should be heard after the Second Reading of the Bill;

Mr. Grote stating that he believed that it was the invariable practice that an agent could only be heard after the Second Reading of the Bill objected to had been agreed to. Again, in 1839, in the Jamaica case, the same course was adopted upon the understanding that Members assenting to the Second Reading of a Bill did not thereby pledge themselves to support it at a later stage. Therefore, by taking the Second Reading on Monday we shall in no way prevent the delegates being heard at the Bar of the House if it is decided that they should be so heard. I have made this explanation lest it might be thought that by the Second Reading being taken next Monday there was any desire to debar the Representatives of Newfoundland by removing the opportunity of their being heard.


I should have been glad if my noble Friend could have made the day later; but if it is undoubtedly understood that we shall not be pledged beyond that, there is probably no objection to its being taken on Monday, and possibly the Marquess of Salisbury will be back by that date. I would also ask my noble Friend another question. On a previous occasion I asked him whether there were any Papers which could be presented to the House on the subject of the communications which passed between the Government of Newfoundland and that of the United States, but which had unfortunately to be broken off. I do not think those Papers have been presented, and it seems to me very desirable that, if possible, we should have the Papers on the subject before the Bill is read a second time, because, unfortunately, considerable irritation has been caused on this subject, upon which that correspondence bears, not directly, but indirectly.


The Papers have been already laid before the House, and I may add that before Monday I hope also to be able to lay before your Lordships some further Papers regarding the main question affecting Newfoundland.


May I express a hope that if the delegates from Newfoundland do Petition to be heard at the Bar of the House by Counsel Her Majesty's Government will consider further whether it is desirable in this case to follow the course which I think is in accordance with precedent, and take the Second Reading of the Bill before the delegates are heard. Of course, I am not acquainted with the various precedents in which parties have been heard by Counsel at the Bar of the House, but it appears to me that the present case is quite peculiar, because, as far as I understand it, what the delegates from Newfoundland are coming over to urge are objections not so much to details of the Bill, but to the principle of the Bill— in fact, to any legislation on the subject. It occurs to me that if that is so, and the delegates are heard at the Bar of the House, it would be somewhat out of place if the House has already assented to the principle of legislation by reading the Bill a second time; and that it would be more consistent if we first heard what objections they have to urge against the principle of the Bill.


My Lords, I do not know whether I am in order in answering, but as far as I can judge it would be much better to follow what I have said Mr. Grote spoke of as the invariable precedent, and which was adopted by Sir Robert Peel in 1839, and other eminent persons—Lord Brougham and others in reference to former Bills. That precedent will probably be followed, but with the reservation that no Member is pledged to support the Bill at a future stage, because it has been read a second time, and before Counsel may have been heard at the Bar of the House.