My Lords, I wish to put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the necessity for which has arisen from what I must conceive to be an erroneous report of what has been stated in another place, upon a subject of considerable importance. It has been reported that a statement was there made, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that, with respect to the Bill 1251 which is now pending, or rather which has passed the two branches of Legislature in Canada, for granting compensation for losses sustained during the rebellion in that country, and which is now awaiting Her Majesty's assent, to be signified either by the Governor General or by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, no official correspondence whatever, up to the present time, has taken place between Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonial Department and the Governor General of Canada; that the reports of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly in Canada have not been communicated to Her Majesty's Government; and that no official instructions have been either asked for or given, nor any correspondence taken place on the subject. It has been added—which is a matter, in my mind, of still greater importance—that private letters have passed upon the subject between the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governor General of Canada, and that this course has been adopted avowedly for the purpose of rendering it impossible that the correspondence should be laid before your Lordships, or come under the cognisance of Parliament. I am perfectly ready to agree, as in other communications of this kind, that Her Majesty's Government have the power to withhold any portion of the correspondence on the ground of its being detrimental to the public service; but if the course has been pursued which I hope to hear denied by the noble Earl, and that the statement of what took place elsewhere was erroneous—if, I say, the whole of the correspondence, with the opinions of the Governor General, and the directions of the Secretary of State for the Colonies upon a matter which deeply affects imperial interests—if these have been studiously confined to private correspondence, and no official correspondence has taken place—if, consequently, that private correspondence is the private property of the Secretary of State, and, when he leaves the office he now holds, will be removed by him from the public records; or if it be of such a character that at no time it is capable of being produced—then, my Lords, in such case, if that system be suffered to prevail, Ministerial responsibility is at an end, and the control of Parliament is absolutely ousted over any proceedings which Her Majesty's Ministers may think fit to adopt with relation to our colonial interests. Nay, more, the 1252 successor of the noble Earl, whenever the noble Earl shall quit office, who will have to carry on the affairs of Canada, finding, perhaps, that this question has led to ulterior consequences, will have no record before him by which he may understand the intentions and advice of his predecessor, or the nature of the information and instructions given to the Governor General, by which he may be influenced in guiding his own course in measures which may have resulted from this. I hope to hear from the noble Earl, not that he is ready to produce that correspondence, but that there is one which will remain in the office, and which, at some time, may be produced, if necessary, in order to throw light upon the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government in this matter. I have felt it my duty to call attention to this case, for the purpose of marking, as I think your Lordships will do, your opinion of the irregularity and inexpediency of such a course of proceeding for the future, if it has been adopted upon the present occasion. The questions which I wish to put to the noble Earl are—first, whether any official correspondence has taken place upon this important subject between himself and the Governor General of Canada? and, in the next place, whether the whole and sole responsibility of assenting to, or refusing to, sanction the Bill, is intended by Her Majesty's Government to be cast upon the shoulders of the Earl of Elgin? and, thirdly, whether, acting upon the part of the Crown, the Secretary of State has felt it his duty to instruct the Governor General of Canada as to the course he was to take on behalf of the Crown?
§ EARL GREY
In reply to the questions put to me by the noble Lord, I have to inform your Lordships that no official correspondence has taken place upon the subject referred to by him. I have further to inform your Lordships that the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly are not yet in the possession of the Colonial Office. It has never been the practice that the votes and proceedings of the colonial legislatures should be sent from any of the colonies enclosed to the Secretary of State. We have accounts in the local newspapers; but formal reports of these proceedings have never usually been in the possession of the Secretary of State for the Colonies until the close of the session of the colonial legislatures. Some time since this inconvenience attracted my notice, and I wrote a circular to the Governors of the principal 1253 colonies, directing that by every mail the votes and proceedings of the legislative assemblies should be transmitted to the Secretary of State. But with respect to the correspondence on this subject, I must further add, that the private letters which have passed between myself and the Earl of Elgin are confined, so far as they relate to this subject, to the expression of his opinion that it was his duty to decide upon his own responsibility, when this Bill should be tendered to him, whether he would accept it or reject it, or whether he would reserve it for the sanction of Her Majesty's Government; leaving it to them, when he had acted in accordance with his constitutional duty, to determine whether the decision to which he should so have come should be approved by Her Majesty in Council or otherwise. It will rest with Her Majesty in Council ultimately to determine whether this Bill is to come in force or not; but the Governor General has stated to me, that he thought it inexpedient, until he was called upon to take some measure on the subject—until he was called upon to act in the matter, that he should make any report whatever upon it, because he conceived it to be inexpedient that it should be known in the colony what would be the course which he should ultimately think it right to take. The Act which had been passed through the two branches of the legislature, had not, at the date of the last advices, been tendered to him for his assent; and, upon inquiry, I find that it is the usual practice of the legislature in Canada, as of most others, not to tender any public Act to the Governor, for his acceptance or refusal, until the close of the session, unless there existed some special reason for bringing the Act into early operation. The present Bill has not yet been laid before the Governor General; he has not decided; and not having decided—not having taken any public step upon that subject, he said that he did not conceive the time was come when he could with propriety or advantage to the public service make any official report upon it. I have further to state, that I have given Lord Elgin, neither publicly nor privately, any directions or instructions with respect to the course he is to pursue. I have abstained from doing so deliberately and advisedly, because, in my opinion, it is absolutely impossible that the affairs of the colonies can be administered with advantage, if the Secretary of State interferes more with the discretion of the Governor 1254 than is absolutely necessary. The more experience I have of colonial affairs, the more persuaded I am that the true secret of satisfactory management of our colonies is to choose the best men that can be found for governors, and having got such governors, to give to them a large and wide discretion, and a generous trusting support, and never to believe that they have acted wrong, unless there is some strong evidence to that effect. In pursuance of that opinion, I have advisedly and deliberately abstained from giving the Governor General of Canada any instructions with respect to the course he is to pursue on this subject. I have further to say, that if I should leave the office I hold next week, the official correspondence left in the records of the office will leave to my successor all the means which can be necessary for forming his judgment upon any measure which he may be called upon to adopt. Of course, I adhere to the practice—which has been the practice of all my predecessors—of corresponding privately, as well as officially, with the governors of Her Majesty's colonies. It is important that I should know, not only what they have done, but what are their private opinions upon the various subjects which may come under their notice. It is more especially necessary in cases where the governors are private friends, that I should have their full and unreserved opinion upon passing events both at home and abroad. These letters I shall continue to write and to receive; but, most undoubtedly, I think, as the noble Lord thinks, that it would be departing from my duty, and the governors of the colonies would be equally departing from theirs, if the official correspondence which may remain in the records of the office does not contain what it ought to contain—namely, the fullest information with respect to all the facts and occurrences which take place in those colonies, and upon which the Secretary of State for the time being, wherever he may be, may be called upon to decide. I have reason to believe that I have carried almost farther than most of my predecessors the principle of taking care that every instruction and every important statement of facts should be contained in official despatches, and not be confined to private letters.
said, it was very important—not that incidental communications between one man and another should be perused in order to their being 1255 laid before Parliament, but that communications on public business from colonial governors to the Secretary of State should be preserved for the use of Parliament. He had been greatly relieved from his anxiety on this point by the statement which the noble Lord had just made. He understood that an old and valued friend of his had stated elsewhere that Lord Elgin had omitted to mention certain matters of great public importance in his despatches, lest those matters should be brought before Parliament, but that he had noticed them in his private correspondence with the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies. But nothing could be more incorrect, more groundless, than the doctrine that because a thing is mentioned in a despatch, Parliament must be made acquainted with it. Many things might be mentioned in a despatch which it would be highly improper to lay before Parliament; and even in times of the strongest opposition to a Government, Parliament never had the least difficulty in acceding to the proposition that a despatch should not be made public if any Minister thought its publication would be inconsistent with the public service. Nothing, therefore, could be more absurd than the idea that things which it might not be convenient to lay before the public, could not be put in despatches lest they should be called for by Parliament; for despatches had been called for and refused at all times. He agreed with the noble Earl that the best way of governing a colony was to take great care, in the first instance, to choose fit and proper persons, and having made a selection, to give them entire confidence, and to lend them an unhesitating and generous support, until they were clearly proved to be in the wrong. That was the rule by which he (Lord Brougham) had always been guided as a Minister. He doubted very much, on the other hand, whether a governor should be so left to himself as that he might act entirely on his own responsibility: while there might be no ground for fettering his discretion, it might be necessary to give advice and suggestions, and even directions, for the right management of colonial affairs. It was highly satisfactory, however, to know that there was no foundation whatever for the statement made elsewhere, that Lord Elgin had omitted certain matters from his despatches lest Parliament might be made acquainted with them.