Mr. George A. Drew (Leader of the Opposition):
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. Yesterday, following the requests which had been made on different occasions, a debate on national defence, for which in excess of $2 billion is to be appropriated, was opened by a statement by the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton). Following him, the speaker was the military spokesman of the Conservative party in this house, and he was known to be speaking in that place in this particular debate, the importance of which is emphasized not only by the money involved but also by the general circumstances under which this debate comes before us following the recent meeting in Lisbon.
Inquiries of the Ministry
When the hon. member for Nanaimo (Mr. Pearkes) had been speaking for only a very short time the minister left the house and did not return until shortly before his speech was completed. I would point out that this is not the first time we have had a similar experience. A week ago today, ministers whose estimates, involving more than $200 million, were coming before the house were not in their places. That made it impossible to deal with those estimates as they should have been dealt with, and, I might say, resulted in delay in the consideration of certain estimates until a time when it was not likely that they would be given adequate consideration.
I would point out that on this particular occasion the presence of the minister was not only a courtesy due to a member of this house in a debate, which is not a debate on estimates, not a debate in regard to any particular detail, but a debate to inform the house, and also to inform the minister as to what members of the house think about what is taking place. The absence of the minister in a case of this kind immediately after he had made his own speech indicates a lack of regard for the importance of the debate which must of necessity communicate itself to everyone in the house.
We had yesterday as excellent speeches as have ever been made in the house on national defence-presented, however, in an atmosphere from which the reality had been drawn by the fact that the minister responsible for introducing the debate was not present.
If this stood by itself, perhaps one might overlook it; but for the minister to leave the house after his own speech, at a time when a member with the unique experience of the hon. member for Nanaimo was speaking-a man who served in every rank from private to general and who has won decorations for valour not won by any other living infantry officer-to disregard the importance of a speech by such a man can only be regarded as the greatest discourtesy to him as well as to members of the house.
In referring to this matter I am dealing with something that goes to the very root of the privilege of every member who is recognized as the representative of the people who have chosen him, no matter to which party he may belong. When a subject as important as this is under debate, either the minister responsible should remain in the house, or *the government should regard it as advisable to adjourn the debate until he can con-, veniently return.