HC Deb 15 March 1948 vol 448 cc208-10W
Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he has any statement to make in regard to the forthcoming referendum in Newfoundland.

Mr. Gordon-Walker

A despatch has been sent to the Governor of Newfoundland indicating the questions which it has been decided should be put before the people of Newfoundland at the forthcoming referendum. The following is the text of the despatch, which was published in Newfoundland on 11th March:


I have the honour to state that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have had under careful consideration the Report of the National Convention of Newfoundland which was set up in terms of the National Convention Act No. 16 of 1946.

2. The terms of reference of the Convention were to consider and discuss among themselves as elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934, and, bearing in mind the extent to which the high revenues of recent years have been due to wartime conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum. In the course of their proceedings the Convention made a very full study of the financial and economic situation of Newfoundland, and I should like to pay this tribute to the conscientious way in which members of the Convention carried out their difficult task. As noted in the Report, the Convention arranged for delegations to visit both London and Ottawa and as a result of the discussions between the Ottawa delegation and the Canadian authorities, the Canadian Government issued a document setting out the arrangements which they would be prepared to recommend to the Canadian Parliament as a basis for union between Canada and Newfoundland should the Newfoundland people indicate their desire for such a course.

3. At the vote taken at the conclusion of the Convention a motion was passed without dissentients recommending that the following forms of Governments should be placed before the people at the proposed referendum:

  1. (1) Responsible Government as it existed prior to 1934.
  2. (2) Commission of Government.

A further Resolution recommending that Confederation with Canada upon the basis submitted to the National Convention on the 6th November, 1947, by the Prime Minister of Canada, should be placed before the people of Newfoundland in the referendum was negatived by 29 votes against 16.

4. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom appreciate that there has been a feeling amongst some members of the Convention that the entry of Newfoundland into a Confederation with Canada should only be arranged after direct negotiations between a local responsible Government and the Canadian Government. The terms offered by the Canadian Government represent, however, the result of long discussion with a body of Newfoundlanders who were elected to the Convention, and the issues involved appear to have been sufficiently clarified to enable the people of Newfoundland to express an opinion as to whether confederation with Canada would commend itself to them. In these circumstances, and having regard to the number of members of the Convention who supported the inclusion of Confederation with Canada in the ballot paper, His Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that it would not be right that the people of Newfoundland should be deprived of an opportunity of considering the issue at the referendum and they have, therefore, decided that Confederation with Canada should be included as a third choice on the referendum paper.

5. The Resolution of the Convention did not indicate any limiting period for the continuance of Commission of Government if this form was found to be favoured by the electorate. Commission of Government was originally established on a temporary basis in view of the difficult financial circumstances of Newfoundland in 1933, and it appears to His Majesty's Government that if it is to be continued there must be some understanding as to the period in which the position would be again reviewed. They have decided, therefore, that the question to be placed on the ballot paper should be limited to the continuation of Commission of Government for a period of five years, on the understanding that before the end of that period arrangements should be made for a further testing of Newfoundland public opinion as to the future form of government at the end of the five year period.

6. The questions to be put before the people at the National Referendum will therefore be:

  1. (a) Commission of Government for a further period of five years.
  2. (b) Responsible Government as it existed in 1933 prior to the establishment of Commission of Government.
  3. (c) Confederation with Canada.

7. Since on the above basis there will be three questions on the ballot paper, it is intended that there should be provision in the Referendum Act for a second referendum should no one form of government get an absolute majority at the first vote. The form of Government in favour of which the smallest number of votes was cast would in that case be omitted from the ballot paper at the second Poll.

8. It will be understood that, in the event of a form of government other than Commission of Government being decided upon as a result of the referendum, the Commission of Government will continue in being for the period required to arrange for the establishment of the new form of government. In the event of the Vote being in favour of Confederation, means would be provided to enable the full terms and arrangements for the constitution of Newfoundland as a province of Canada to be discussed and settled between authorised representatives of Newfoundland and Canada.

9. I shall be glad if you will arrange for the publication of this despatch in Newfoundland.

I have the honour to be,


Your most obedient, humble servant,

(Sgd.) P. J. NOEL-BAKER."