June 6, 1956 (22nd Parliament, 3rd Session)


John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. J. G. Diefenbaker (Prince Albert):

Mr. Speaker, this indeed is a time when the solemnity of the occasion denies anything in the nature of vengeful feeling or indeed the expression of strong views. I do not know of any occasion in the years I have been here when I have risen with less relish than I do now; for indeed this house and parliament walk with history when events such as these occur and when a motion such as that which was proposed by the Leader of the Opposition comes up for consideration in this house.
With the viewpoint of the Prime Minister that it is a momentous occasion, no one can disagree. I would remind the Prime Minister of this, however, with regard to the remarks he made today. When the motion was made the Prime Minister in effect stated that what was being done was an attempt to delay the pipe-line debate and disarrange the timetable of the government. That was not the purpose. In continuing the debate may I say that I am of those who believe that Mr. Speaker is in the position in which he now finds himself because of the improper acts of the government. That was revealed when the Prime Minister stated yesterday that what took place on Friday would have prejudiced the government.
I speak as one who has had toward Mr. Speaker those feelings that have been referred to over and over again, but this motion is more than a personal one. It is based on the demand for a perfect dedication to the preservation of the ancestral rights of the members of the House of Commons, requiring that Mr. Speaker maintain the privileges of parliament. In so far as Mr. Deputy Speaker is concerned, the Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to have a motion brought before the house but that opportunity was denied. Having regard to the contents of that motion, in order once more to restore this house to a sense of its responsibility I believe that the Deputy Speaker should indeed present his resignation.
It is in keeping with the seriousness of this occasion that we maintain dignity and restraint-the Prime Minister did so during the course of his remarks-for all of us know that if freedom is to be maintained this place must remain its national temple for our country. It is not an unusual motion, although

until 1925 in the mother of parliaments it had not been made within the memory of any living member of parliament. Parliament has been described by Quintin Hogg in these words:
... a priceless possession, not to be exchanged for anything more meretricious ... an ancient family mansion which has been lived in continuously for a period of centuries.
Freedom is maintained by successive Speakers, who have it in their hands and their power to sustain the rights of members in all parts of the house and to assure that the ark of the covenant for Speakers is that all members have equal rights and that at no time shall there be a deviation, however beneficial that might be to the government of the day or however detrimental or prejudicial to the wishes of the government of the day any order made by Mr. Speaker may be.
Mention has been made of the regrets that all of us have for the events that have taken place. I indulge in no recriminations. I am of those who join the Prime Minister in their love of parliament and in the maintenance of those amenities which are above the temporary advantages of controversy in this house. Indeed, one of the elements that distinguishes parliament from other representative institutions was set out many years ago by Sir William Harcourt on June 24, 1895, when offering his resignation as leader of the house. He said this:
I would ask leave to say that for every man who has taken part in the noble conflicts of parliamentary life, the chiefest ambition of all ambitions, whether in the majority or in the minority, must be to stand well with the House of Commons.
That is a principle that we maintain as an ideal, however often in the thrust of debate we lose sight of the goal which is ours. In order to maintain parliament as an instrument of freedom, a fearless and determined opposition whose rights are respected is of the essence. To that end rules have to be interpreted fairly, for when the interpretation of the laws of parliament is altered or changed in order to meet the demand of the majority or has the appearance of being so altered, then the rights of parliament are violated and tyranny is substituted for justice. I fear that in the years ahead what has taken place will be looked upon as the temporary passing of parliament, when rules were swept away, when the demands of justice were disen-throned and when the doctrine which was the negation of democratic rights was enthroned, that might is indeed right.
Sir, all of us have read works on parliament and on the rights of the Speaker. One of the finest works on the subject was written by Herbert Morrison. He sets forth in his

book "Government and Parliament" the sanctity of the position of Speaker. I am not going to read from it; I am simply going to make my own summary and it is this. The responsibility of the Speaker is-and I paraphrase the words of another that were written over 2,500 years ago-to combine that degree of freedom of speech without which parliamentary rules are tyranny and that degree of parliamentary rules without which freedom of speech would become licence.
Throughout the ages Mr. Speaker has been in imminent danger of displeasure at the hands of the sovereign. I do not quote British precedents because the appointment of our Speaker is so different, but under the British system the speakership is a permanent appointment. His impartiality denies that he be the subject of directives or otherwise from the government. His concern is not whether his action may prejudice the government or the majority. To dare place him in that position is to make Mr. Speaker a sacrificial instrument at the will of the government. That he will err no one denies; that he will sometimes make mistakes is admitted; that he will sometimes be wrong is accepted; but that he will ever be on the side of wrong is to deny the traditions of his high office.
Sir Robert Borden described parliament in 1929, sir, when he accepted from the mother of parliaments at Westminster the gift of the chair in which you now sit. He said this:
The parliamentary institutions which we hold as of right and not of grace were won by a common ancestry and through gradual evolution and development during the past five or six centuries.
It is because we believe this that we alternate as between English-speaking and French-speaking Speakers.
The man who summoned the first gathering that might be regarded as the forerunner of the commons house of parliament of Great Britain as that of Canada was a Frenchman, born in France. Thus we can look back with satisfaction upon the fact that Saxon and Norman five or six hundred years ago stood side by side in the assertion of liberties that are ours today.
It is because of that great tradition that we in this parliament must assure that our prerogative rights must be maintained, must be assured, shall in no way be diminished, and may not be curtailed at the hands of the majority, however desirable that curtailment may be.
I mentioned that there was a recent instance in the mother of parliaments. I am not going to speak at length in this regard. However, to those who are interested the motion appears in the British Hansard of May 25, 1925, moved by Captain Wedgwood Benn, to the following effect:
That, in view of the express provisions of standing order No. 26 for the protection of the rights of minorities, this house regrets the action of
House of Commons
Mr. Speaker on the 25th May, 1925, when, contrary to recent precedents, he granted the closure at 11.45 p.m. on the first day's debate on the motion for the second reading of the finance bill.
Outstanding leaders of Liberalism spoke on that occasion. Sir John Simon, afterwards lord high chancellor, dealt with the rights of parliament and the need of Mr. Speaker preserving at all costs the rights of the minority and also of assuring that those rights shall in no way be diminished. Right Hon. David Lloyd George spoke on the same occasion. In detail he set forth the facts at pages 1605 and 1606, and I paraphrase his early remarks, that the majorities of today become the minorities of tomorrow and what is done to minorities today will create precedents that in future years will be used against those who become minorities. At page 1607 he said this:
I have, in this house, been one of the leaders of great majorities for 17 years, but I am prouder of the fact that once upon a time I was one of seven, trooping into the lobby amidst the jeers of a triumphant majority. I am prouder today of that fact, and it did not take many years before that triumphant majority melted away amidst the derision and scorn of the people of this country. I know majorities must prevail if you are to govern, but minorities must also be heard if liberty is to be preserved, and it is because I think that the liberties of this house have been curtailed and that a fair opportunity has been denied, not to us, but to the House of Commons-we only wanted our share whatever it was-*
I say, sir, those words represent the situation here. This motion is not a partisan one; this motion is one that is moved not for the benefit of the minorities of the present but for the benefit of minorities that are yet to come. And I say to the Prime Minister through you, sir, that Mr. Lloyd George on that occasion pointed out how soon those transitions do take place.
I have gone back over the years, and the earliest occasion I can find is in 1628. At that time the then Speaker, Mr. Speaker Finch, refused to listen to the requests of the members of the house of that day. He was asked to speak on their behalf, to be the custodian of their rights, and he refused to do that although according to the ancient privileges of parliament as they then existed it was his responsibility so to do. He was urged to act; he refused, and a member of parliament, Mr. Peard, said this:
If the Speaker will be silent, we are dumb. That is blowing up the house without gun powder.
That is the regard that members had as far back as 1628 for the tremendous responsibilities that rest upon the Speaker.
I am not going to go over the details of the last few days but, sir, what took place on Friday, June 1, as recorded at page 4537- and I say it with a deep sense of responsibility; I say it with sadness-was a denial

The Late J. L. MacDougall of the rights of the House of Commons to a degree that members, whatever side they are on, ought not to accept with equanimity.
Your Honour had made a ruling the night before, on Thursday, May 31. You had ruled that the hon. member for Nanaimo could speak. In effect you endorsed the question of privilege he raised. You indicated that certain portions of the letters might raise privilege, and you wished an opportunity at some time to point out those sections that did not. You made a ruling which was prejudicial to the government's intentions and demands. You made it in keeping with the finest traditions of those who have occupied that honoured chair. Sir, why did you change the next day? The record gives no reason other than that you believed you had made a mistake.
Sir, there were scenes of indignation in this house. I am of those who, loving this institution, denied themselves the luxury of participating in some of the things that took place; but, sir, you will never understand the feelings of hon. members that were aroused when those ancient rights were negatived and the decision of the previous day was altered overnight, when parliament through you, sir, had taken its firm decision on the Thursday night and you altered that decision the next day.
You placed a proposition before parliament. I have searched the records and I can find no example that in any way can be considered a precedent. Can you not understand why hon. members were aroused? Can the government not understand? What would the Prime Minister have said if he had been on this side? However one looks at the decision on Thursday night, that decision was made; that decision could not be changed. To say that the House of Commons is its own master is simply to adopt a verbal subterfuge. That is why we were aroused, sir.
Mr. Speaker, I move the adjournment of the debate. The Prime Minister knows why.

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