April 16, 1935 (17th Parliament, 6th Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)



On the point of order may I quote to your honour the comment in Redlich's Procedure of the House of Commons, with respect to the rules of the house that govern in the matter of freedom of speech? In Volume III at page 4S Redllich speaks thus in regard to freedom of speech:
The power of parliament to judge the acts and speeches of its members is the starting point, a condition precedent for its complete and absolute liberation from the control of any exterior authority. We can. of course, conceive a parliament which disclaimed such an autonomous jurisdiction-
That is to say, control over its own members in the matter of the language they may use.
-and refused to call its members to account for transgressing the bounds of usage and tradition; and again a parliament might declare in advance that it did not insist on any standards of speech among its members and would exercise no control over them: in such cases we should be without the historic premises from which the privilege was deduced in England. The struggle there for freedom of speech was waged to emancipate the action of parliament from all influence of crown, courts of law and government; it was never a fight for an absolute right to unbridled oratory, for freedom to each member to say exactly what
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he pleased. From the earliest days there was always strict domestic discipline in the house and strict rules as to speaking were always enforced. The house could point to its autonomous regulation of the conduct and speech of its members, and to its enforcement of its rules; its power of so doing enabled it to claim and to win for its members the right of exemption from all responsibility at common law for what they said in its debates. Thus, theoretically speaking, the principle of parliamentary freedom of speech is far from being a claim of irresponsibility for members; it asserts a responsibility exclusively to the house where a member sits, and implies that this responsibility is really brought home by the house which is charged with enforcing it.... Freedom of speech and self-imposed rules of debate are linked conditions for the existence of true parliamentary action.
I maintain that unless we proceed on that basis, parliamentary discussion becomes an impossibility.

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