May 21, 1940

EUROPEAN WAR

STATEMENT AS TO RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON WESTERN FRONT

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):

Before the house enters upon the business of this afternoon I feel I should acquaint hon. members with the situation as it is in Europe at the present time in so far as the government has information that may be regarded as official and wholly authentic.

The military situation in France has become more serious. The Germans, after breaking through the relatively lightly fortified line facing the Belgian border, were held on the south and east. They have, however, after a temporary slowing up, succeeded in making rapid headway toward the west and northwest, particularly down the valley of the Somme. Arras and Amiens are reported by the French authorities to have fallen. The enemy are striving to reach the channel ports and to cut off the Anglo-French forces in Belgium. The enemy have relied upon rapid advance by huge tanks and armoured cars working in close cooperation with diving bombers and followed by infantry.

d6

War-Participation 0} Canada

It has not been easy for the allied forces to realign their forces and to devise new tactics to meet the unexpectedly rapid advance, but they are straining every effort. The British and French forces have done brave and effective work in attacking enemy bases and lines of communication. The morale of the French armies is unbroken, and the appointment of Marshal Petain and Marshal Wey-gand to the supreme direction has given new confidence. M. Reynaud, in his frank and courageous address to-day, declares, " These two great peoples, two great empires, cannot be defeated. France cannot die." This is the true voice of France. It is equally the voice of Britain and of the entire British commonwealth of nations.

The situation as it apparently exists at the front is changing from hour to hour, aye even from minute to minute. In this, probably one of the darkest hours in the history of our country and empire, we can, however, all take some consolation by reminding ourselves of the past. The Germans were at the gates of Amiens, and the British army separated from the French army, in March, 1918. The hour was grave indeed, yet no one thought of giving up the struggle. Then, thanks to the resiliency and buoyancy of the French character and temperament and the dogged determination and persistence of the British, the line was reformed, reestablished and held, and finally the victory was that of the allied powers.

That is all the information I am in a position to give the house at the moment.

Topic:   EUROPEAN WAR
Subtopic:   STATEMENT AS TO RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON WESTERN FRONT
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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

I desire to thank the Prime Minister. I hope he will continue this practice of letting the house and the country know the worst or the best.

Topic:   EUROPEAN WAR
Subtopic:   STATEMENT AS TO RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON WESTERN FRONT
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INQUIRY AS TO STATEMENT BY DEFENCE MINISTER


on Canada's participation


NAT

Grote Stirling

National Government

Hon. GROTE STIRLING (Yale):

May I rise on a question of order to ask the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Rogers) if it is his intention to make a statement on Canada's participation in the war, and if he will do so at the resolution stage of the war appropriation measure so that in subsequent stages of the discussion we may be the better informed?

Hon. NORMAN McL. ROGERS (Minister of National Defence): I may say to my hon. friend that it had been my intention to speak while the resolution standing in the name of my colleague the Minister of Finance was under discussion, and I shall be very glad indeed to do so.

Topic:   INQUIRY AS TO STATEMENT BY DEFENCE MINISTER
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WAR APPROPRIATION BILL

PROCEDURE IN REFERENCE TO COMMITTEE OR COMMITTEES FOLLOWING SECOND READING

NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition):

If I am in order I should like to ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) if he will be good enough to clarify what he had in mind yesterday when he was referring to the proposal which he then made that after a general debate on the resolution to provide the moneys required to support Canada's war effort the appropriation bill would be referred to a committee or committees of the house. If the Prime Minister will refer to page 49 of yesterday's Hansard he will see the passages to which I have reference. Perhaps in order to clarify my question I might take the time to read them:

There should be a general debate on the resolution. We can then refer the appropriation bill to a committee or committees of the House of Commons in order that there may be disclosed to the members of those committees information which would not probably be in the public interest to place on the pages of Hansard or to broadcast in debate to the House of Commons.

Further on he made this observation:

I should like to emphasize that the setting up of these committees will not preclude in any way any member from debating any subject to which he may desire to call the attention of the house and the country, and I give my assurance to hon. members that the constitution of such committees will not be used as a pretext for concealing any information which it is in the public interest to disclose.

I have studied those two statements very carefully and .they appear to me to be inconsistent. Reading the first statement by itself without reference to the second it would appear that the intention is to refer the appropriation bill to a select committee of the house, on which we shall be represented, and that there will then be disclosed information which the government may declare that it is not in the public interest to place on Hansard or debate in the house. That of course, if agreed to, and if we participate, would tie our hands and preclude us forever from using information so disclosed, whether or not we agreed with respect to the principle of public interest. On the other hand the second statement emphasizes the view that the setting up of a special committee or committees will not in any way preclude any hon. member, including I assume any member of the committee or committees, from debating any subject to which he may desire to call the attention of the house and the country.

If the information, or some of the information, given to this committee, is of such a character that it would not be in the public

War Appropriation-Mr. Mackenzie King

interest to disclose it, how is it possible that any hon. member can, if he so desires, use in debate the information so disclosed? The two suggestions seem to be incompatible and inconsistent, and before we are able to acquiesce and agree to act or cooperate I think the Prime Minister should clarify the situation. I invite him to do so; if he does not, we shall be obliged to review the situation further before reaching a decision one way or the other.

Topic:   WAR APPROPRIATION BILL
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE IN REFERENCE TO COMMITTEE OR COMMITTEES FOLLOWING SECOND READING
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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 the leader of the opposition (Mr. Hanson) that I am obliged to him for bringing immediately to my attention any matter concerning which there may be the slightest doubt in his mind as to the intention of the government. With respect to the appropriation bill, which is the one that relates to the war expenditure, the procedure is in the first instance the presentation of a resolution; the bill being a money bill has to be preceded by a resolution which is approved by this house. The resolution is debatable in- much the same manner as the bill itself. The resolution with the permission of the house was introduced yesterday and is now on the order paper. On the motion to go into committee on the resolution, general debate will take place. In the debate hon. members are free to make whatever representations they may wish with respect to its subject matter. If the resolution is adopted it will then be referred to the committee of the whole, and while in committee hon. members will be free to question the government on matters respecting Canada's war effort on which they may wish to have information.

Some questions may be asked to which it would not be possible, and others to which it would be unwise to attempt to make an immediate reply on the floor of this house. Whether or not the government would be justified in the nature of the reply it might make will of course be apparent from the nature of the reply itself.

When the committee stage is concluded and the resolution is referred back to Mr. Speaker and is finally passed a bill will then be introduced founded on the resolution. The bill will go through first and second readings, and after the second reading will, if the procedure proposed is followed, be referred to a special committee. The committee thought of is a committee which will be composed of hon. members from both sides of the house. It will have the right and the power to call for the production of papers and documents and to ask members of the public service, including

the heads of all three branches of the Department of National Defence, to appear before them. With respect to the appropriations that are being considered, such questions may be asked direct of the responsible heads of the defence services as hon. members may deem advisable. Obviously some questions will be asked calling for information which it might not be in the public interest or more particularly in the interest of the allied powers to have made public on the floor of this house or in any other way. Such information might, however, be imparted in confidence to members of a committee where it could not be given publicly. In saying this I hope my hon. friend and hon. members of the house will not think that the government would be trying in any way to withhold information which hon. members might wish to have and to which they are rightly entitled. Such information as it would be necessary to impart in confidence would be in the nature of military secrets and information that it would not be advisable to have given in a manner which might result in its reaching and assisting the enemy.

The government has left open for consideration the question whether it would be advisable to have one committee dealing with defence matters generally or committees to deal separately with the different branches of the service; for example, one committee to deal with matters relating to the army and another with the navy, and yet another with the air force.

I think I mentioned yesterday that it would be advisable that great care should be taken in the selection of the personnel of the committee or committees to which I refer. By that I mean that members of the different parties would be asked to select those of their number in whom they had the greatest confidence, having regard to the extreme importance of the matters which would be disclosed to members of the committee. That is not a reflection upon any hon. member of the house; rather it is a caution which it is important should be expressed by the government, which of course becomes responsible for all information that may be disclosed. I would say, for example, that any hon. member who had been a minister of the crown would naturally be first choice. A next selection might be from among members who have had wide parliamentary experience or special knowledge of the branch of the service to which the committee would be related, the purpose being to have on each committee as much experience and wisdom as possible in safeguarding matters of great public importance whether such experience and wisdom were gained from long association with

68 COMMONS

Supply-Appointment oj Committee

public affairs inside parliament or in other ways from outside, on the part of those who may be duly elected to parliament.

I do not know whether I have answered my hon. friend's question in full. My hon. friend did raise a question about members being free subsequently to bring up any subject for discussion. The thought was that many of the questions which might be mentioned in the committee of the whole on the resolution would be of such a character that hon. members would have to be informed at once, [DOT]"This is a confidential matter which cannot be disclosed on the floor of the house." It would be expected that material presented in that light would be further discussed in committee with members of the staff of the Department of National Defence and would receive the confidence that should be given following such a statement. It is not the desire in any way to prevent hon. members from knowing all that can possibly be known; it is simply a desire to follow the practice which has been followed for many years at Westminster, of taking the house as fully as possible into the confidence of the government in connection with confidential matters, but doing so in a manner which will protect the public interest. If I have not answered my hon. friend with sufficient clarity, and he wishes to speak to the matter further, perhaps he will do so. I may add that I shall, as mentioned yesterday, be only too happy to confer with my hon. friend and with the leaders of other groups in the house concerning the proposal before we move to have the appropriation bill referred to any committee.

Topic:   WAR APPROPRIATION BILL
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE IN REFERENCE TO COMMITTEE OR COMMITTEES FOLLOWING SECOND READING
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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

With that understanding I am content.

Topic:   WAR APPROPRIATION BILL
Subtopic:   PROCEDURE IN REFERENCE TO COMMITTEE OR COMMITTEES FOLLOWING SECOND READING
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APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE

LIB

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

Liberal

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

According to the rules of

[DOT]the house the first business to be taken up immediately after the motion regarding the address in reply to the speech from the throne has been agreed to is the constitution of the committees of supply and ways and means. Hon. members will find that standing order 57, which relates to that subject, is as follows:

The house will appoint the committees of supply and ways and means at the commencement of every session, so soon as an^ address has been agreed to, in answer to his excellency's speech.

These are the committees of the whole house. The committee of supply controls the public expenditure and the committee of ways

lMr. Mackenzie King.]

and means provides the public income raised by means of taxation. In accordance with the standing order I move:

That this house will, at its next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider of a supply to be granted to his majesty.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE
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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition) :

I have no objection at all to this procedure, but I should like to point out to the Prime Minister that as yet we have not received the estimates.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

No; the estimates cannot be before the committee of supply until the committee itself has been constituted, and at the moment I am simply constituting the committee. This is a formal routine procedure which is necessary at the beginning of the session. The estimates will be presented in due course. My hon. friend the Minister of Finance (Mr. Ralston) will be able to inform the house, possibly tomorrow, when he expects to have the estimates brought down.

With regard to war expenditures I may repeat to my hon. friend the leader of the opposition (Mr. Hanson) that it is of course intended to follow the procedure which has been followed in previous parliaments at a time of war. Those expenditures will be dealt with in the appropriation bill and will not form part of the estimates.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE
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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

I thank

the right hon. gentleman for that statement. I am not very familiar with this procedure.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE
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Motion agreed to.


WAYS AND MEANS

APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEE

May 21, 1940