On Wednesday last,
March 5, I was asked by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) to take into consideration standing order 41 and give an interpretation particularly of paragraphs 315 and 316 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, which deal with the question of the reading of documents and whether these documents should: be laid on the table. When the hon. member made the suggestion I indicated that it was not the function of the chair to give advice to hon. members but rather that the Speaker was required to judge and interpret the rules of the house on any question raised in the course of a debate or in its proceedings.
The hon. member had in mind the discussion which took place that day and which had just been completed, on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for North Battleford (Mrs. Nielsen), in the course of which she read a letter received from a correspondent. It might be well to state to
the house the rule governing questions of privilege. It has been well stated in May's Parliamentary Practice, 13th edition, page 317: The house is always willing to extend its indulgence when an honourable member wishes to clear up any misrepresentation of his character: but that indulgence ought to be strictly limited to such misrepresentations, and ought not to extend to any observations other than by way of correction.
It was not necessary for me to give a decision during the discussion for the reason that the hon. member for North Battleford agreed >to lay on the table the letter which she read.
There is no doubt as to the parliamentary rule which requires a minister of the crown who refers to a public document in the house and upon it bases an argument or assertion. That document, if called for, must be produced. The principle involved in such a proceeding is so obvious and reasonable that there does not seem to be any room for argument. It is the principle established in courts of law which prevents counsel from quoting documents which have not been produced in evidence. It has however been held that a demand for production and' filing of any document should be made immediately and not at a subsequent sitting of the house.
There is no standing order which governs the quoting of private communications and we are guided mainly by custom and precedents. I have no doubt in my mind as to the decision I would have rendered with regard to the portion of the letter which the hon. member for North Battleford read into the records on Wednesday last. The contents of that letter are so serious that unless the hon. member, as such member, assumed responsibility for it, then, as Speaker of the house, I would have asked the hon. member to lay the letter on the table of the house or, alternatively, I would have sought the consent of the house that it should be laid on the table. However, the hon. member took the proper course in laying the letter on the table.
It will be noticed that in the letter there is a serious statement concerning an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of the departments of government; that it refers specifically to a function of government of a most contentious and delicate character in these war years, namely, the question of internment, and by reason of the publication of the portion of letter in Hansard, it may be properly considered of the nature of a public document. That is all the more reason why it should have been laid on the table and it might have been retained as a parliamentary paper.
It may not be, in other cases of a like nature, so easy to interpret the rules of the
house. For instance, an unsigned letter should not be read in the house. Mr. Speaker Lemieux so decided on May 16, 1928. Or a member may desire to summarize information contained in a communication, but the member giving the summary must take the responsibility, as a member of this house, for the correctness of the information he or she seeks to give. If an hon. member proposes to read a communication in its entirety, or even a portion, without divulging the name and address of the sender and the member refuses to take the responsibility for the truth and accuracy of the contents, I am clearly of opinion that such a communication should be laid upon the table, and particularly if so desired by any member of the house. In the present case I agree with the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) that an hon. member is not entitled to read from communications unless prepared to place them on the table of the house. The principle upon which this is based is that where information is given to the house, the house itself is entitled to the same information as the hon. member who may quote the document.
Subtopic: INTERPRETATION OF STANDING ORDER 41 RESPECTING THE TABUING OF DOCUMENTS CITED AND LETTERS QUOTED