§ THIRD READING.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
My Lords, there is one matter to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention. I find that the delegates sent over here from Newfoundland not unnaturally feel somewhat aggrieved at the view which has found expression in many newspapers in this country, that in the proposals which they made, and which were referred to in the last stage but one of the Bill before the House, they were withdrawing from the proposals which they had made in the first instance. Entertaining, as I do, a very strong view that any such charge against the delegates is unfounded, I think it is only right that I should publicly express that view. I am not going into the controversy as to what was the meaning or the true interpretation of the expression which they used in the offer originally made by the delegates—as to whether they indicated the passing of permanent or temporary measures. On the last occasion I expressed my opinion upon that subject. I did not, of course, intend for a moment to suggest that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies did not understand the proposal in a different sense, but of this I am quite certain: that there is no ground whatever for the conclusion that the delegates are not stating what is perfectly correct when they say that they intend in that proposal to refer to temporary legislation, and that they 468 certainly so understood the proposal they made; and I do not think any candid person can dispute that they may well and reasonably have so understood that proposal, inasmuch as it was so understood by myself and those of my noble Friends with whom I have been in communication on the subject. If we so understood it—if that was the interpretation which we put upon it, coming to the question without preconceived opinions, it certainly cannot for a moment be justifiably suggested that the delegates did not mean and intend that which by many was understood to be the true meaning and construction of the language they used. I am not on the present occasion proposing to reopen the question as to which interpretation is correct, but whatever view is taken upon that point it cannot be suggested that the delegates are not now adhering to the proposals which they intended to make, and believed that they did make, using language which might reasonably be understood to mean what they wished to express when they were first heard at the Bar of your Lordships' House. I think it is only right, inasmuch as they naturally feel sore at the statements which have appeared in many newspapers that they are departing from their word, that I should publicly make that statement. I do not propose to enter further into the controversy upon this question, because if I understand aright, the situation has been materially changed in one respect since the matter was last before your Lordships' House. At the time of the last discussion the noble Marquess suggested that there was no-warrant for our taking the view that the delegates were the absolute representatives of the Legislature of Newfoundland and that even such proposals as they might have accepted might none the less not be accepted by the Legislature of Newfoundland. As I say, the situation is materially changed since then, because, as I understand it, the Legislature of Newfoundland have indicated by a vote-that they are prepared to carry out such legislation as the delegates propose. But I understand that a communication from the delegates to the Colonial Office either has been sent in the course of this afternoon or is now on its way—I am not sure which, and in either case it obviously would be unreasonable that I 469 should press Her Majesty's Government for any expression of opinion upon this proposal on the present occasion. If they have not seen it, it would be impossible for them to make any communication, and if it had only recently come to their hands it would be equally unreasonable that they should be asked to give an expression of opinion upon a matter which they might quite properly say required some careful consideration. Therefore I do not press Her Majesty's Government, even if they have received these proposals, for an expression of opinion upon them. All I urge upon the noble Lord and upon Her Majesty's Government is this. Let me say, in the first instance, that I do not know what these proposals are. It would be the greatest possible satisfaction to me, and I believe to all your Lordships, if these proposals were such as Her Majesty's Government might find themselves able to accept; but even if they should not be such as they could accept in all respects, as to which I express no opinion, I do most seriously and earnestly impress upon Her Majesty's Government not to put them aside as unacceptable, and so put an end to any attempt to arrive at an understanding. I hope even if they are not considered acceptable that, at all events, the Government may make an endeavour as far as possible to meet the wishes and views of the delegates, and to arrive at a settlement which will secure legislation in Newfoundland instead of the legislation proposed by this Bill. I do so, not only in the interest of our relations with the colony, but in the interest of a satisfactory settlement of this question in all respects, because I am quite certain that even if Her Majesty's Government do not get all they might think should be accorded by the Newfoundland Legislature, yet on the other hand they must see that if they can secure the means of enforcing the Treaty at present existing by legislation in Newfoundland they are much more likely to be able to effect the object they have in view by acting in that way in harmony with the Newfoundland Legislature and Government than by acting in opposition to them, and by forcing this legislation through in this country, even if they might think that in some respects such legislation would be more 470 satisfactory than the legislation proposed by the colonists. It is eminently a case in which every possible consideration and regard should be shown to the colony, consistently with the duties imposed upon Her Majesty's Government. I have no reason to suppose that they will not be willing to show that consideration and regard for those who represent the colony of Newfoundland, and I think that every endeavour should be made to come to an understanding which will bring about a harmonious rather than a hostile settlement.
§ LORD KNUTSFORD
My Lords, I need scarcely say I regret that any misapprehension should have arisen with regard to the proposal of the delegates, and I should feel especial regret if the misapprehension had arisen from any failure on my part to make clear the decision and views of Her Majesty's Government. I will not dwell upon the point any longer, except to accept the statement which the noble and learned Lord has made, that the delegates from the first only intended to propose that a temporary Act should be passed. The delegates are now, however, aware of the position and views of Her Majesty's Government. I have not seen any proposals that have been sent in to-day, nor am I aware whether any have yet been received at the Colonial Office, but of course every consideration will be given to those proposals. I confess that I have spoken somewhat in vain in this House, and that others who represent Her Majesty's Government have spoken in vain, if we have not succeeded in assuring your Lordships and in convincing the noble and learned Lord that we have every desire to meet the wishes of the colonists, that we have made every effort to do so, and that we are not, therefore, liable to the kind of lecture which the noble and learned Lord has just given us. He has assumed, on the part of the colonists, that we have endeavoured to keep them at arm's length, whereas the very reverse is the case. We have endeavoured at every stage to meet them; all their proposals have been carefully considered; and we most heartily desire that they should pass legislation, and free us from the necessity of proceeding with this Imperial Bill. As regards this special measure, I must observe that throughout all the attacks that have 471 been made upon Her Majesty's Government in this respect no reference has been made to the clause now standing as Section 3, which is a protection to the independence of the Colonial Legislature. That has never been sufficiently recognised. We have earnestly desired to keep that independence secure by giving the colonists, at any time, power to suspend the Imperial legislation by passing themselves a measure sufficient to secure the performance of those international obligations by which they, as well as this country, are bound.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I had not the slightest wish to make any further remarks upon this subject, but I cannot pass over in silence the remarks of the noble Lord opposite, which I confess I have heard with some pain. The noble Lord talks about my noble and learned Friend having administered a lecture, which, I am sure, was not in the least his intention, and he spoke—which I cannot concur in—of the thoroughly conciliatory attitude of the Government. I had no wish to say a word more on the subject, but as he challenges us upon it I feel bound to say that I think the attitude of the Government has been the reverse of conciliatory. I do not say it in regard to this country, but to the colony; and for this reason: The colony propose legislation which would have met, in my opinion, the whole difficulty; the Government, however, replied peremptorily to that, and demanded permanent legislation. I cannot for a moment see how it can be claimed, on behalf of the Government, that that is a conciliatory attitude. It may be a wise attitude; it may be a prudent attitude; it may be that they are right in the arguments that they have used, but that they have adopted a conciliatory attitude I cannot agree. What we complain of on the part of Her Majesty's Government is that while they have quite rightly intimated to the colony that it is impossible there should not be legislation for the purpose of carrying into effect the Treaty, they have not, since the delegates have put their proposals before them, shown the desire, which I should have thought they would have shown, to come to some agreement with the colony. I must say they have shown, what I ventured on a former occasion to deprecate, that is, a certain 472 amount of ill-temper. I say it deliberately—a certain amount of ill-humour on account of the persistent refusal of the Newfoundland Legislature to meet Her Majesty's Government on former occasions. I do not agree with the position which the Newfoundlanders took up. I think it would have been wiser on their part if they had met Her Majesty's Government at the time in a more conciliatory spirit. All that I quite concur in, but I believe we all admit they have very strong grounds of irritation, not against Her Majesty's Government, but on account of the Treaty to the provisions of which they are subject, and although they may have shown a want of conciliatory feeling in the past, that is no reason why we should visit them with punishment in regard to what ought now to be looked upon as by-gones. I will repeat, even though I may be said to be lecturing, which is not at all my intention, that it is in the interests of this country, and of our relations with France, and that it is also in the interest of Her Majesty's Government themselves, that, if possible by any means, this legislation should not be forced upon the colonists. The result, it is quite clear, will be that if the colonists are to have this legislation—and I am not saying that this is yet decided — forced upon them, we shall have to enforce the Treaty against the colonists when they are in a state of great irritation, and I am sure the noble Lord must see that will be a real disadvantage to us; and it is for that reason, and not merely as an advocate of the Newfoundland colonists, which is not a part which I wish to play, but in the interests of Her Majesty's Government itself, that I and those who are with me urge that the Government might have shown a more conciliatory attitude towards the colonists.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think it necessary to say a few words after—what shall I call it?—the exhortation from the noble Lord opposite. I will not call it a lecture, though he has told us of our hostility and our ill-temper.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know whether, if the noble and learned Lord was invested with the right of lec- 473 turing us on Sundays, he could have spoken much more frankly than he has done. But it is not the question whether the noble and learned Lord's rhetorical compositions are to be classed an lectures or not: the question is, whether Her Majesty's Government have deserved any such blame as that which both the noble Lords have imputed to them?
§ LORD HERSCHELL
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I imputed, in the whole of my observations, no blame as to the past; I only expressed a strong hope that something might be done in the future.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I should have thought that the noble Lord's language would hardly have been relevant unless there was some presumption that we needed a repetition of the very obvious moral maxims which he has used. When you repeat the Ten Commandments in an emphatic tone to anybody you rather impute that the Ten Commandments have not been observed by that person, and that, I think, was rather the tone in which the noble Lord spoke to us, though there was nothing at all novel presented to us, or beyond the power of the most limited capacity, which would prevent our discovering such moral guidance for ourselves. I repeat that the two noble Lords, by presumption or by direct statement, have imputed to us that we have not acted in a conciliatory spirit towards the Newfoundland colonists. I am not aware of any action on our part to which that language can be applied. I am sure that it would not be wrong to say that our patience through years of negotiation has been exemplary. We tried every device of negotiation we could conceive in order to bring about an arrangement between the colonists and the French Government. At their request we laid proposals before the French Government, which we knew it was perfectly impossible the French Government could accept. We did all we could to give full expression to their wishes, and to convince them that the difficulty in which they found themselves, and which we always recognised very heartily, was one which it was not in our power to get rid of. Then, when 474 it came to the necessity for a Bill, we had to choose, to find a path, to consider how we should combine what we believed would be the utmost possible consideration for the colony with the observance of our plain international obligations, and the avoidance of the dangers and hazards which nobody in this or the other House of Parliament would be anxious we should incur. What we have said is that legislation must be passed by a certain time, and we have already strained that time to the utmost. At this very moment acts are going on upon the coast of Newfoundland which France challenges as illegal and a breach of Treaties. I do not suppose that the French Government will make any exaggerated or extravagant representations on that head, but that is the fact at the present moment. Our officers have been deprived of all power of interfering for the protection of the Treaties; they are under instructions to report, but, so far as interference with British subjects goes, not to act. It is impossible that we can allow that state of things to go on for an unlimited time. We feel it is absolutely necessary to bring it to a close. If the Newfoundland Legislature will give us the powers we desire, I quite recognise that would be a much more satisfactory mode of doing it than by our taking the powers here at Westminster; but a pressure for a permanent Act is due not to the motives which the noble and learned Lord was kind enough to suggest, not to any anger, provocation, or ill-temper, to which he was pleased to say it was due, but to our feeling of the international hazard involved in the contrary course. Anyone who knows the ways of the British Parliament, the difficulty of getting Bills through the House of Commons, and the way some sudden storm of political disturbance will sweep across the country and prevent the attention of Parliament, even to pressing matters of foreign interest, will know that it is not a safe plan to put ourselves in such a position that for a considerable number of months it would be entirely out of our power to fulfil our international obligations. Again, I say, if the French Government remains what the French Government now is, I do not apprehend that we shall have to look for any unfriendly construc- 475 tion of difficulties which may arise on that account. But a consideration which I cannot put aside, and which I entreat noble Lords to reflect upon for themselves, is that we cannot assume that any of these conditions around us are permanent, and that circumstances may not place us in a position of difficulty and even of peril, if we have not always the power of observing what we have acknowledged to be our international obligations. Therefore it does seem to me that we require something more than a temporary Act, an Act which is only to be renewed on the condition that an agreement is come to in the meantime on some very difficult questions regarding compensation and tribunals which the Newfoundland Legislature has placed before us. We shall be exceedingly glad to consider the suggestions which the delegates have made, and we shall make great efforts to come to an agreement with them upon those two subjects. What we do not like is to make our power of fulfilling our international obligations contingent on any accidents which may arise, and upon our obtaining power upon those two points. That is our desire, and against that we must guard. I utterly repudiate the construction put upon our conduct by noble Lords who say that it was influenced by any spirit of ill-temper or (hostility towards the colonists. We are anxious by every means in our power to make their position, which we admit to be difficult and disagreeable, as tolerable as possible. We are anxious to consult their feelings and sympathies as far as we can, but we do claim from Parliament the power of fulfilling our international obligations.
My Lords, it has often been my duty to point out the inconvenience of Resolutions interfering with legislation, and on this question arbitration is extremely inconvenient, because all arbitrations are necessarily lengthy. For 12 years it was my duty to arrange for conducting all arbitrations from the Court of Queen's Bench, and I may mention, perhaps, my method of procedure. My first step was to get together the counsel engaged, and see that they were exactly agreed upon what was the subject of reference. However, though the delays of arbitration 476 may be objectionable, I think a little delay would be a good thing on this occasion, and upon the Motion that the Bill do pass, I propose to move that the Bill do pass this day month.
§ LORD NORTON
My Lords, I must express my own opinion that it is most unpatriotic of the two noble Lords opposite to make this accusation of the want of conciliatory spirit on the part of the Government towards the delegates from Newfoundland. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Herschell) made the accusation by way of insinuation—by way of giving advice to the Government to act in a friendly spirit. The noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) made his attack more directly, and said there had been an unfriendly spirit shown. If it had been true it was unpatriotic to say so. What object could the noble Lords opposite have had in throwing out that insinuation here publicly except to impress the delegates in the first place with the idea that there had been something unconciliatory in the action of the Government towards them; and, in the second place, which is still more dangerous and unpatriotic, to create that impression in the minds of the colonists at the critical moment of a most difficult and delicate question—a question of the greatest possible importance for the interests of the colony, and as regards the foreign relations of this country. But I deny that there is any ground whatever for this insinuation. The Legislature of the colony was called upon from time to time to legislate themselves in the matter, and it was not until they absolutely refused to legislate that the Government came forward with the necessary Bill—for an empowering Act must be passed by one or the other. I repeat that it was not until the colony had refused to act that the Government came forward with their Bill, and then only presenting it as a provisional measure while still pressing them to act, and stating that the Imperial Act was only brought forward as an absolute necessity, telling them—" If you will not yourselves act within a certain time there must be action on the part of the Imperial Government." I have no doubt that there may have been irritation felt on the part of the colonists from the galling annoyance 477 caused them by the provisions of the Treaty. But that was not irritation against this country. It arose, as I say, from the difficulties arising from the observance of a Treaty more than a century old, which had become obsolete, and some of the provisions of which were very galling to them. They knew that we were doing all we could on our part, and that we were as anxious as they were to remove that difficulty. They could feel no irritation against us, though they felt a natural irritation at the Treaty which we were doing our utmost to alter, and which they knew we were doing our utmost to modify, in their interests. But, after all, how could it possibly have been the object of Her Majesty's Government, or of anybody else in this country, to act in an unconciliatory spirit while trying to co-operate with the colonists in removing the difficulties arising out of the Treaty? It was our object as much as theirs to remove them; we have acted together for that purpose; and it is quite as much to our interest as to theirs that they should be removed. I do sincerely hope that it will not go out to the delegates or to the colonists that there is any foundation whatever for the insinuation which I think has been most unpatriotically thrown out against the Government on this occasion.
§ On Question, agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed, and sent to the Commons.