June 12, 1951

?

Some hon. Members:

Nay.

Topic:   POST OFFICE ACT
Subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSOLIDATE, CODIFY AND AMEND EXISTING LEGISLATION
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LIB

Elie Beauregard (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

In my opinion the nays have

And more than five members having risen:

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LIB

Elie Beauregard (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Call in the members.

Topic:   POST OFFICE ACT
Subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSOLIDATE, CODIFY AND AMEND EXISTING LEGISLATION
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?

An hon. Member:

A waste of time.

Topic:   POST OFFICE ACT
Subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSOLIDATE, CODIFY AND AMEND EXISTING LEGISLATION
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PC

Arza Clair Casselman (Chief Opposition Whip; Whip of the Progressive Conservative Party)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Casselman:

It is not a waste of time at all.

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Subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSOLIDATE, CODIFY AND AMEND EXISTING LEGISLATION
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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Parliament is a waste of time to some members.

Topic:   POST OFFICE ACT
Subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSOLIDATE, CODIFY AND AMEND EXISTING LEGISLATION
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PC

William Joseph Browne

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Browne (St. John's West):

Mr. Speaker, I was paired with the hon. member for Yukon-Mackenzie River (Mr. Simmons). Had I voted I would have voted for the amendment.

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LIB

Elie Beauregard (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Is it the pleasure of the house to adopt the motion?

Motion agreed to and bill read the third time and passed.

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LIB

Alphonse Fournier (Minister of Public Works; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Hon. Alphonse Fournier (Minister of Public Works) moved

that the house go into committee of supply.

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COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER

PROCEDURE

PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. George A. Drew (Leader of the Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, I propose to employ this motion for the purpose of introducing an amendment, the first purpose of which is the raising of an issue which I believe is of major importance to this house, and which has been under consideration for many years.

I shall read the amendment which I propose to move, so that my remarks may be directed to it and hon. members may know precisely what I am moving. The amendment reads:

That all the words after "that" to the end of the question be deleted and the following substituted therefor:

"This house is of the opinion that appropriate steps should be taken for the appointment of a

select committee to consider with Mr. Speaker the procedure of this house for the purpose of making recommendations designed to assure the more expeditious dispatch of public business and to suggest any changes that may be desirable."

This subject has been under discussion for many years, and public funds of Canada have-been appropriated for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to this subject and of making recommendations which the house was asked to consider for the purpose of producing the results contemplated by this motion. I have introduced the motion in the form of a recommendation that appropriate steps be taken, recognizing the fact that this purpose will be accomplished only if the government is prepared to take the initiative and introduce a motion similar to the motions which have been introduced in the past with this thought in mind.

Such a motion was moved in this house on May 21, 1940, by the then prime minister. The words were similar in effect, but they took the form of a positive motion to set up a committee, as was in keeping with a motion introduced by the prime minister. After considerable discussion of the subject on that occasion and an indication of general agreement in all parts of the house that steps of this kind were necessary, the motion was withdrawn, not because it was considered inadvisable to proceed with such a matter but rather because it was thought that changes of this kind could well be deferred during the period of the world war which was then in progress.

At a later date the Speaker of the house at that time, Hon. Gaspard Fauteux, proceeded to Great Britain, accompanied by Dr. Arthur Beauchesne, and considered the procedure in Great Britain as well as elsewhere. The Speaker presented a report to the House of Commons, which, as I know Your Honour will recall, related also to voice-amplification equipment for the chamber. That report was laid on the table on December 5, 1947, and was printed for distribution to hon. members as well as for general distribution.

The opening paragraph of that report indicates how long this subject has been under discussion and how general the agreement has been that steps should be taken to consider a revision of the rules and the acceptance of new procedures which would expedite the business of the house. I should like to read the first paragraph of the report, because it indicates the basis upon which the Speaker was proceeding. When I speak of this report as being the report of the Speaker, may I again remind hon. members that the Speaker was accompanied by Dr. .Arthur Beauchesne, whose eminence and

House of Commons

authority in the field of parliamentary procedure is unanimously accepted in this house, outside the house in Canada, and also beyond the bounds of Canada. We can recognize the fact that in presenting this report the Speaker had the advantage of advice from the man who is the most experienced of anyone in Canada in matters of this kind. The first paragraph reads:

Complaints have been made in the past tew years that protracted sessions of parliament are caused by deficiencies in the rules of procedure. Criticism has been widespread and sometimes based on misconceptions. Several attempts to revise the rules were made during the last and the present parliaments, but they had no results. On May 21, 1940, the Prime Minister moved the appointment of a select committee to consider with Mr. Speaker the procedure of this house in regard to a more expeditious dispatch of public business and to suggest any changes that may be desirable. After a short discussion the motion was withdrawn unanimously.

As I have indicated, the reason the previous motion was withdrawn was that it was accepted that it was advisable to defer changes of this kind until the termination of the war. A number of speakers on both sides of the house indicated their strong support of a motion of this kind. On May 26, 1942, not speaking to this particular motion but in regard to the whole question of procedure in the house, Mr. Ilsley stated, as reported on page 2774 of Hansard of that date:

In my judgment parliament is more and more on trial, at the bar of public opinion. There is something wrong with this House of Commons. I am not reflecting on the house, and I do not know what is the cause. But there is something wrong with it.

Then on February 9, 1943, the present Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton), also speaking in the house in regard to procedure, had this to say, as reported on page 291 of Hansard:

Some of the criticism about the House of Commons and its working is just misinformed.

And later:

Other comment on the working of parliament results from the feeling that there is room for improvement and that we can do something about it so as to make parliament the great forum of the nation and a better expression of the national will.

And again:

If there is one answer to be made to the criticisms so far made about parliament it is that nobody seems to have studied and expressed why it is defective, if it is defective; what can be done to change it, what should be done, and when.

On the same day Mr. P. J. A. Cardin in this house, as recorded at page 280 of Hansard:

Our rules of procedure are obsolete. They have been framed after the rules followed at Westminster, but here we have not developed the methods and customs prevailing at Westminster. There is an urgent necessity for a change in the rules of the house, a change in our methods of procedure.

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Then I find that on February 1, 1943, the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) had this to say, as recorded at page 60 of Hansard:

I was disappointed, however, to hear the Prime Minister say that he thought a revision of the rules of the house ought not to be undertaken during this period of war.

Then the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar went on to review what he had seen in the House of Commons at Westminster, and the dispatch with which the business was completed there. He then continued with these remarks:

I have read the rules of some of our sister nations, New Zealand, for example, where the rules have been changed' in comparatively recent years; and in my opinion if we would modernize the rules we could do very much in this house without interfering with freedom of expression or freedom of speech.

More recently, on June 25, 1947, the hon. member for Peel (Mr. Graydon) suggested twenty specific changes in our rules. Those changes, which are recorded in Hansard, indicated his considered thought from extended experience in the house as to ways in which the rules could be improved by the attaining of a more expeditious procedure in the House of Commons.

May I point out that the report presented by the Speaker on December 5, 1947, had a number of very excellent recommendations which have not been carried out, and which undoubtedly deserve consideration. After all, this report was presented to the house more than two years after the termination of active hostilities. Any reasons for deferring consideration of this subject that may have existed in May of 1940, when the then prime minister presented a motion similar in intent to the one now before you, had been removed, and we may very properly say that they do not exist today.

One of the recommendations made at that time had to do with a subject that has been under discussion on various occasions, not only during the present session but also in other sessions in recent years. It is to be found in paragraph 22 of the recommendations presented by the Speaker to the House of Commons. That paragraph reads ds follows:

The House of Commons in the United Kingdom is now contemplating a combination of the public accounts committee and the estimates committee, making them a single committee to be called the public expenditure committee. There is great logic in that. The public accounts committee works on moneys already spent; the amounts considered in committee on estimates, before payments are made, eventually become items for the consideration of the public accounts committee. There should be

no limitation to the jurisdiction of the new committee which ought to investigate anything it thinks fit with regard to estimates and regularity in the payment of expenses.

If there were no other specific recommendations in the report of the Speaker tabled in the house on December 5, 1947, that one recommendation contained in paragraph 22 would deserve consideration by a committee of the nature I am now proposing. May I emphasize the words of the Speaker, not quoted by him from anyone else, but his own conclusion. He said:

There should be no limitation to the jurisdiction of the new committee which ought to investigate anything it thinks fit with regard to estimates and regularity in the payment of expenses.

There are many other recommendations, intended to simplify procedure, to give orderly direction to the procedure of the house, to ensure that with the more expeditious dispatch of business in the house there nevertheless shall be the preservation of the rights of members with respect to motions such as those made on going into supply. All these deserve consideration; but let me emphasize the importance of the particular recommendation to which I have referred. We have a public accounts committee which is not permitted to examine accounts after March 31 of the year before the year in which the committee sits. After all, it is a useful committee and could be more useful for the purpose of checking procedure, ensuring a review of auditing methods, and the adoption of the very excellent recommendations of the Auditor General which are made year by year.

In a time of rapidly expanding expenditures, however, a review of past business more than a year old is of little advantage to the members of the house in determining whether the greatly expanded expenditures are in keeping with the demands for economy as well as for the very necessary purposes for which they are designed. If there ever was a time when it should be possible for a committee to examine expected expenditures, it is at a time when there is an enormous increase in the request of the government for money to provide the necessary expansion of our defence organization and equipment, which does, however, introduce many types of -completely new governmental activities which will not be covered by the public accounts that can be considered in the ordinary, way by the public accounts committee.

I would point out that when the Speaker recommended in 1947 that we should follow the practice being recommended at Westminster of combining the activities of the

public accounts committee and the committee on estimates, in that very recommendation he was emphasizing something which we should bear in mind. There has been a committee on estimates in the United Kingdom for a great many years. That committee deals with the estimates that are presented, and avoids a great deal of the discussion that takes place in this house, to which many hon. members, particularly on the government side, repeatedly object.

May I suggest to those members who are constantly objecting to the length of time devoted to the questioning of ministers with respect to the estimates before the house that if they do not want that discussion to take place here, neither do we. We say that the place for that discussion to take place, to the advantage of the business of the house and the people of Canada, is in a committee where departmental officials can be brought forward, where details can be explained in a much more businesslike way than in the House of Commons, and where a discussion can take place concurrently with the ordinary business of the house. Our experience in the house is that with the appointment of committees made up of representatives chosen from the different parties in the house, there is a very strong inclination on the part of members generally to accept the recommendations of such committees. I am confident that if we had a committee on estimates, in the majority of cases there would be little new discussion concerning the details, because the members here would know that other members in whom they had confidence had examined the estimates, had obtained the information and were satisfied. Where there was a difference of opinion indicated by the members of the committee, then the members here would undoubtedly be inclined to carry forward the discussion in that area in which there was a difference of opinion. I am satisfied that in most cases that would be the only area of continuing discussion in this house. The area of discussion in this house in regard to the estimates would, therefore, be substantially reduced. This would expedite the business, not merely by weeks but perhaps even by months, and it would be much better handled within a shorter time.

May I refer again, and certainly without any apology, to another subject that has been under discussion concerning a means of improving the conduct of business in this house, and most important business. I am referring to the appointment of a committee

House of Commons

on defence expenditures. I repeat the suggestion, because I believe that this is an appropriate time to point out that we have had defence under discussion here not only since the estimates came forward but on the speech from the throne, on the budget debate and again on the different occasions on which the minister has made announcements prior to the introduction of his estimates. Those estimates are to be considered again. Many new events will have occurred, and a completely new debate will take place, and ought to take place. Then, if we follow the procedure we have followed, after another short discussion the estimates will be withdrawn, held back; new events will occur in different parts of the world, and new bases for discussion will arise. If, Mr. Speaker, there were a committee on defence expenditure, appointed by the parties in this house, and made up, I should imagine, largely of those gallant members on both sides of the house who have served this country in two world wars, there would be little inclination on the part of other members to question their recommendations wherever they were unanimous. We would doubtless find that the number of items on which there was a difference of opinion would be limited. There would be a discussion on those items. There would, of course, be a general debate on defence, but that general debate would take place with the advantage of an examination of the estimates before the members of this house engaged in such a general debate.

May I also point out, sir, that by procedures of this kind we could avoid two extended debates, one following the motion to approve the speech from the throne, and the other following the motion to go into supply after the introduction of the budget. Because of the fact we have no such committee, members are naturally inclined to range over a wide field. They do not know when they will have an opportunity of discussing any of these subjects at a later time. If they knew there was going to be an examination in. the committee, and that committee reports were to be presented in regard to each of the departments, they would know that at that time they could make appropriate comments concerning any subject of general interest throughout Canada or of concern to their own constituents.

I feel sure that hon. members of this house know that in the United Kingdom, as a result of consideration of procedure in the house, they have avoided these two general debates which range over such a wide field. There is a general debate, not covering the extended period which it does here, on the motion

House of Commons

to approve the speech from the throne. But there is no general debate of a similar nature at the time the budget is introduced. The debate on the budget is a debate on that particular subject, and also on the subsequent bills that are introduced-which, I may say, are now before the House of Commons at Westminster.

I have only touched on some of the subjects that have been raised and some of the arguments that have been put forward, some of which have been put forward with even greater vigour by members on the other side of the house. I have sought to avoid anything of a controversial nature relating to any comments I may have made on other occasions during this session in regard to procedure, because I am presenting this motion in the earnest hope that it will be adopted. I hope that the earlier arguments from all parts of the house will be accepted at this time, and that we can have an examination of the procedure of this house, consistent with complete freedom of debate, to devise a method that will assure the more expeditious dispatch of the public business of Canada.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. L. S. St. Laurent (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker, the government, and I am sure most members, if not all members of the house, welcome at least the substance of the amendment moved by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew). Before declaring expressly that we should be glad to accept it, I should like to see the exact language that is used. The substance, however, is one which we welcome, and which I believe the whole house will welcome. I am taking it for granted that the leader of the opposition and the members of his party are making this suggestion in an earnest desire to bring about improvements in the manner in which the business of the house can be conducted, to the end that sufficient opportunity for careful consideration may be provided, but also that repetitions may be avoided of anything that might consume time without producing really beneficial results for the country at large.

I believe, in view of the announcement I made the other day, that this would be an opportune time to have a select committee to consider with Mr. Speaker the procedure, and to study all the suggestions that from time to time have been made in the house. The committee perhaps might not have its report ready for the opening days of the next session, but I think that during the next session, because of the fact it will be a session in which we shall ask the house to give priority to government business so that we may clean up the arrears and start with a fresh slate in 1952, we could perhaps resolve to

adopt as an experiment some of these suggestions for the duration of the session. The experience we would gain might help the committee come to some conclusions for more permanent changes.

There has been, for instance, the suggestion that each day there be an uninterrupted sitting that would end around seven o'clock in the evening. We might possibly accept the suggestion that we start at one o'clock or two o'clock. Even if we started at two o'clock we would be losing only two hours of the normal week under the present rules, because there are four days when we sit for six hours, and there is one day when we sit for three hours. If we had five days when we sat five hours, it would make twenty-five hours instead of twenty-seven. If we accepted the suggestion made the other day by the hon. member for Eglinton (Mr. Fleming) to commence sittings at one o'clock, we would really be increasing the normal number of hours in the week, because we would have five days of six hours each, or thirty hours instead of twenty-seven. That is something to which consideration can be given.

With respect to the suggestion made about committees on estimates I would be happy, as I am sure would a large number of members in the house, if we could adopt a procedure that would function as does the procedure that has been adopted at Westminster. Hon. members realize, of course, that at Westminster there is a limitation on debate, and that a relatively short time is allotted for the consideration of estimates in their committee of the whole after the estimates have been considered in the committee on estimates. The committee on estimates does not attempt to range over the whole field of the estimates, but rather picks out one department or more and goes carefully into the estimates of that one department or more, the choice being made by the opposition. I think that procedure might be quite acceptable, and could at least be tried out here.

As to a committee on defence expenditures, we did not think that during this session such a committee would provide useful results, because the defence department and the defence production department are just getting under way and are obliged to devote a great deal of time to organizing. We know that, during the last war, the war expenditures committee was extremely helpful to the government as well as to the country; because I think that it is essential, in order to have support from the public, that there be such inquiries and such checking as do satisfy the public that their money is being properly expended. That procedure is of value to the

very existence of democratic institutions1. On all those matters, if, without it being looked upon as too restrictive of the rights of members, we could accept the kind of arrangement that it has been found possible to carry out at Westminster, I think it would be highly desirable.

I have now had an opportunity of reading the language of the motion submitted by the leader of the opposition. I take it that the leader of the opposition does not intend this motion as one of no confidence in the government.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Oh, no.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. St. Laurent:

I take it that he intends it merely as an expression of the opinion of the members that there is room for improvement in our rules.

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Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Just so that it will be a matter of record, may I say that I sought to convey that understanding. I sought to convey that it is not intended as a motion of non-confidence. It was for that very reason that I carefully refrained from anything that could be regarded as critical of discussion during this present session. I rather sought to place it upon the ground of reason and of argument, supported by the arguments which had been made over the years on this very subject.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. St. Laurent:

I am glad that the leader of the opposition wished to have that statement appear on the record. I take it, as I think we all do, it is merely that this opportunity is being used for the expression of the views of members of parliament on the possibility of improving our procedure. I know that there are precedents which indicate that after an amendment to a motion to go into committee of supply has been accepted by the house, a motion to set up the committee is then necessary, and, after that, a motion that the Speaker do now leave the chair, which is the usual motion on going into committee of supply. It is a new motion after an amende ment has been carried.

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Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Knowles:

Citation 489, Beauchesne's second edition.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. St. Laurent:

"Now" is a new period of time. It may very well be that the house, though not prepared to accept the motion that was made three-quarters of an hour ago, and wishing to use it as an opportunity for expressing some specific views, would be prepared a little later on to accept another motion relating to another period of time.

In order to do something realistic about this matter, I think that consideration might be given to setting up, as we did in connection with the amplification system for the house, 80709-252

House of Commons

a small striking committee that would confer with Mr. Speaker to select the working committee that would then consider with him the suggestions that might be made with respect to changes in the rules. I should be happy indeed to see this amendment adopted, on the understanding that it is an expression of the views of the house; and if it is adopted, I shall then be glad to suggest-if that course seems to meet with the approval of the house-that we set up perhaps the same small striking committee we had with respect to the amplification system, to consider and to recommend a list of members to make up this select committee to co-operate with Mr. Speaker and suggest any changes that may be desirable in the rules.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. Coldwell (Roseiown-Biggar):

Mr. Speaker, I think this amendment moved by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) serves a useful purpose. We have had motions and amendments of a similar kind over the years since I have been here, and we have not yet accomplished what the leader of the opposition, and I am sure, other members of the house, wish to accomplish, namely, a revision of the procedures and methods of doing business in this house so that we can deal with matters more intelligently and more expeditiously.

I do not know whether we could adopt somewhat the same procedure as is followed in the mother of parliaments. With their long experience a procedure has been worked out which has, of course, the effect of largely limiting the right of the private member to participate in debates. We have never done that here. But the suggestion that a small striking committee be established to choose a committee to assist Mr. Speaker in a revision of the rules of the house, or in the consideration of a revision of the rules, is indeed a useful one, in my opinion; and I think that it should be put into effect.

I do not think that anyone wants to consider this matter as one of confidence or nonconfidence. We are all interested in seeing that the business of the house is conducted efficiently, and, as far as possible, expeditiously. If this committee is to be set up to consider revision of the rules, I think that some consideration might be given to going over the citations and rulings in the various volumes we have; because some of them are conflicting; sometimes they lead us into difficulties on procedural matters, and a good deal of the time of the house is occupied in procedural discussion.

I am happy to hear both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) speak as they have spoken; and I can assure them that I thoroughly agree that

House of Commons

the time has come when a committee might discuss with Mr. Speaker the procedures and rules of the house. When the report is brought into the house, I hope that a better fate will befall it than that which has befallen similar reports in years past.

Topic:   COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT, MR. DREW
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June 12, 1951