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Newfoundland (House Of Commons Mission)

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 5 May 1943

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(by Private Notice) the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has any statement to make regarding affairs in Newfoundland?

Yes, Sir. As the House is aware, I visited Newfoundland myself last September, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins). Under war conditions Newfoundland has become a centre of great activity; it is an important naval and air base and is making a most valuable contribution to the war effort in men and resources. This has resulted in a great improvement in economic conditions; but it has also given rise to economic and social problems which may be a difficult legacy when employment for war purposes comes to an end. Therefore, while concentrating on the winning of the war, we must think and plan ahead so far as this can be done. It would be premature at present to attempt to reach conclusions, but I feel, from my own experience, that it would be valuable if fuller knowledge of Newfoundland's war effort, and of the problems likely to face the island after the war, could be made available to Parliament. I am therefore arranging for a small mission, composed of three Members of this House, to visit the island during the early summer. I am happy to say that my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has consented to lead this mission; his colleagues will be the hon. and gallant Members for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) and the senior burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer Alan Herbert).

The mission will not be a formal body charged with a specific inquiry, constitutional or otherwise. Conditions at the end of the war cannot be foreseen, and the present war pre-occupations of Newfoundlanders and the absence of many of the younger generation with the Armed Forces make a formal inquiry into the island's future Constitution inappropriate at the present time. The mission will be of an informal and good-will character. It will have no defined terms of reference and will not present a written report, but I should hope that my hon. Friends on their return would give members of the House orally an account of their impressions. The mission's objects will be to acquaint itself with all that the island is doing in the war, to give to Newfoundlanders a first-hand picture of our own war effort, and to go about amongst the people in the outports as well as in the towns so as to see something of their way of life. In view of the United Kingdom Government's special responsibility for the welfare of Newfoundland, I feel sure that the House will regard such a mission as most valuable, and I am confident that it will be cordially welcomed by the Government and the people of Newfoundland.

Will this mission have the power to make definite recommendations, or will it be merely to inform itself?

I thought I had explained that the suggestion was not that it should snake a formal report but that it was more of a good-will mission.

Did the right hon. Gentleman in fact take any steps to find out whether the people of Newfoundland would welcome this interference with their internal affairs and regard it as a reasonable substitute for the immediate restoration of the self-government which was taken away from them several years ago?

I do not think that the people of Newfoundland would regard a visit from Members of this House as an unwarrantable interference with their private affairs. I have explained in the answer that the position with regard to the constitution is one of great difficulty, and I have endeavoured to make myself acquainted with the various opinions in the Island, and they are not all agreed as to the future.

I have no doubt that this mission will enjoy itself in Newfoundland and that the people of Newfoundland will treat it very hospitably. I have no doubt of that at all, but did the right hon. Gentleman take any steps to see whether the people of Newfoundland wanted such a mission? It is not merely a friendly visit, as I understood the right hon. Gentleman's statement; it is a visit of some importance, inquiring into what we are going to do for Newfoundland after the war. Are the Newfoundland people not wanting the right to decide for themselves what they are going to do for themselves after the war?

Of course the people of Newfoundland have the right to decide on their own future, and there is no suggestion, as I have pointed out, that this mission was designed to make any specific proposal or to interfere with that right. I think it is useful that there should be a greater acquaintance on both sides with this problem.

May I ask whether, pending the return of the Commission, all consideration of constitutional change or the development of local government will be held up?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing a White Paper to this House giving the position in Newfoundland, so that Members of this House may have some idea of it?

Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough, either now or in response to a further Question, to make a statement to the House to indicate how far this increased activity in the Island has been reflected in the improvement in its economic and financial position?

I wish to give notice that at the very earliest possible moment I shall raise this on the Floor of the House.