May 28, 1940 (19th Parliament, 1st Session)

LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

May I say to my hon.
friend that, when I suggested that the house might think it advisable when we came to the second reading of the bill to have its provisions referred to a committee or to a group of committees to permit of certain information being given by the different defence departments which it is obviously not wise to make public, the present situation had not developed as it has since that announcement was made. I rather gathered from what was subsequently said from the other side of the house that there was some doubt in the minds of hon. members whether that procedure would be the best to follow, that hon. members might feel that, if information was given to them secretly before one of these committees, their tongues, if not their hands, would be tied when it came to asking in public certain questions of the government. Many of the things which the government thought, at the time this parliament met, it would be inadvisable to speak of publicly at the time, have already been spoken of quite freely in the house since parliament met. I am sure that in the course of the discussion on this measure respecting war appropriation, hon. members have gained a knowledge of many situations of which formerly they were

wholly ignorant, and have obtained explanations which I hope have helped to account for what may have seemed to some of them an absence of the degree of activity which many of them, very rightly, would expect at a time like this.
One matter which has been impressed upon the government more and more is the necessity of using great care in divulging matters in advance of the time when it would be wise to make mention of them. For example, I might give this house information at the moment with respect to our expeditionary force, the Canadian active service force overseas, but if I were to give that information to-day it would be giving it to the enemy. I might answer questions with respect to the disposition of our naval forces, which answers, if given at the moment, would equally be given to the enemy. Obviously it is not desirable that matters of this kind should be disclosed, and for that reason I had thought that some such method as I have suggested, of giving to hon. members information that could not otherwise be made public, might be made in the manner I have indicated. But, as I have said, on the resolution itself, questions have been asked and answered quite freely and much information has been disclosed which the government, I thought, would not have considered disclosing at this time if matters had not developed as they have. We are now free to say some things which at an earlier stage we did not deem it wise to make known.
There is however one other reason which I regard as having at the moment an urgency which it did not have at the time I made the proposal to which I have referred. It is this, that the time of the officials of the defence forces at this moment, and probably for some little time to come, would be very seriously encroached upon if those officials were taken away from the duties in which they are engaged to come and discuss matters before a committee of the house, whether a secret committee or not. The government has therefore thought it advisable, and still considers it the right course to pursue at the moment, to allow the discussion to go on in the way it has. If ministers find that they are asked questions which it is not in the public interest for them to answer they will say so frankly and take the responsibility of refusing to give such information, just as they must take the responsibility for giving any information which they impart.
I along with my colleagues shall endeavour to see that information that is sought, if answers cannot be publicly given, is given

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confidentially in so far as may be possible to those who have the responsibility of leading parties or groups in this house. I should like this afternoon to have a talk with my hon. friend who has just spoken (Mr. Coldwell) with regard to the present situation and some matters which I should like him to know, leaving to him the responsibility of imparting their significance to those about him in a manner he thinks would be justifiable. Equally I should like to have a talk with my hon. friend the leader of the Social Credit group (Mr. Blackmore). Yesterday I had a talk with the leader of the opposition (Mr. Hanson) and with one or two of his colleagues who are members of His Majesty's Privy Council for Canada. I had not time later in the afternoon or in the evening to see my hon. friends of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and Social Credit groups but I intend to do so to-day. I purpose this afternoon-in fact, that is the reason I am asking that the house should allow some of my colleagues to withdraw with me at present- to have a conference with the leader of the opposition in the senate, together with my colleague the leader of the government in that chamber, and to ask him to bring with him one or two of his colleagues who were members of the war administration of Sir Robert Borden in order that we may discuss with them the situation as it appears at the present time. If we proceed to attain the desired end in that way, in the light of information with respect to conditions as we know them, we shall be taking the course that I believe will be the wisest one to adopt in the interest of 'he country.

Topic:   NATIONAL DEFENCE
Subtopic:   QUESTION OF KEFERENCE OF WAR APPROPRIATION BILL TO COMMITTEE-FURNISHING INFORMATION TO MEMBERS
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