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Forced Marriage?


[This document was written in 1949. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

In London last week, the House of Commons debated the bill to legalize the entry of Newfoundland into Canada as a tenth province. To a half-empty House, ceremonious, grey-haired Philip Noel-Baker, Commonwealth Relations Secretary, spoke for the Labor Government. All that the House was doing, said he, was to ratify action already taken by the two dominions. Newfoundlanders had voted last summer to join Canada ; Canadians had accepted.


But the sentiment of the House was not entirely unanimous. Independent Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, author (Holy Deadlock) and wit, rose from the front Opposition bench like an agitated penguin. Ever since he toured Newfoundland with a parliamentary good will mission in 1943, Sir Alan had been an unofficial spokesman for his islander friends.


The only legal course for the House, he said, was first to reconstitute a legislature such as Newfoundland had in 1933 before it went bankrupt and was taken over by a British-appointed Commission of Government. Waving his notes, Sir Alan cried: "I am tired of hearing people say that we are doing the right thing in the wrong way. If we are doing it in the wrong way, it cannot be the right thing. We do not say that about a forced marriage or a rape. We do not say: 'The young lady must go to bed one day. What does it matter what the arrangements are?' We take good care that she knows what she is doing, that she is willing, and that she is to be properly provided for. That is what we must do in this House."


Sir Alan appealed to the members' sense of British fair play: "Even the rules of cricket cannot be altered without a two-thirds majority." All the Newfoundlanders want, he added, "is to be able to determine [their] own future in [their] own Parliament instead of being chucked across the counter in a tied-up parcel as if [they] did not matter."


Everyone agreed that Spokesman Herbert had done splendidly; everyone had laughed at the right places in his speech. But the vote was 217 for confederation, 15 against it. This week the bill would be up for the routine third and final reading. Confederation was scheduled for March 31.


Source: "Forced Marriage?, Time (Canadian edition), March 14, 1949 , p. 25.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College