August 4, 1960

MISCELLANEOUS PRIVATE BILLS


Twenty-first and twenty-second reports of standing committee on miscellaneous private bills-Mr. McCleave.


BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

STATEMENT ON RESUMPTION OP DEBATE ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

PC

John George Diefenbaker (Prime Minister)

Progressive Conservative

Righi Hon. J. G. Diefenbaker (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker, with leave of the house, and I hope leave will be granted, I should like to bring up the question of what date might be set aside for discussion of the question of capital punishment. There were two bills before the house, one introduced by the hon. member for York-Scarborough and the other by the hon. member for Vancouver East. After we had discussed the matter for a couple of days the question arose whether or not a further opportunity would be given to the house to discuss this very important measure, and also the problem in general of the infliction of capital punishment. On a number of occasions since questions have been asked as to when that date would be, I made it perfectly clear that we on this side of the house would be most anxious to have the fullest possible discussion of this question which is of such paramount importance.

My recollection is that the last occasion on which the matter was mentioned was July 18. There may have been later occasions but at the moment they do not come to mind. At that time the Leader of the Opposition asked this question, as found on page 6410 of Hansard:

Has the government any plans for the resumption of the discussion of capital punishment?

To which my reply was:

As the hon. gentleman knows, plans were made some weeks ago and were made known to the house. As soon as the legislative program and the estimates have achieved that degree of completion which I believe is necessary, then with the co-operation to which the hon. member for Laurier referred, I am sure that a day will be set aside for that purpose.

The Leader of the Opposition then added these words:

What degree of completion does the Prime Minister consider necessary so that we may resume the discussion?

To which I replied:

The order paper is a pretty good indication, together with the estimates still outstanding.

The hon. member for Assiniboia then added some comments in this regard but more particularly directed to the question of consideration of extending the vote to those 18 years old. I wish to give hon. members the opportunity to express themselves with regard to resumption of the debate on capital punishment. Any day that would suit hon. members would be acceptable to the government.

We have now arrived at that point where, if hon. members in various parts of the house desire to debate this subject, it will be done. To that end I ask not only for the views of the Leader of the Opposition but also for those of the two hon. members to whom I have already alluded, whom I feel sure the house would want to hear, as they have taken a particular interest in this matter and have respectively introduced bills in this regard.

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PC

Daniel Roland Michener (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Speaker:

The Prime Minister has suggested that the house give leave to permit a more extended discussion than would be in order without a motion before the house under routine proceedings. Is it the pleasure of the house to permit the discussion proposed?

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?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

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LIB

Lester Bowles Pearson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Hon. L. B. Pearson (Leader of the Opposition):

My contribution will be short, Mr. Speaker. I think it is quite appropriate that the Prime Minister should have brought this matter up at this time. My own view is that we should complete the legislation that is on the order paper, and then certainly complete the consideration of the defence estimates. When that is done, perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to tell the house the views of the government and the supporters of the government on this matter. Naturally, we in the opposition will do our best to accommodate ourselves to those views. Perhaps on consideration, the Prime Minister might think a week from today would be a satisfactory day, but whatever position the Prime Minister and the government may take we will do our best to meet it.

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CCF

Harold Edward Winch

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Harold E. Winch (Vancouver East):

Mr. Speaker, the words of the Prime Minister are of the utmost importance, and I appreciate very much the fact that he has

Business of the House

taken the opportunity of raising this subject at this time before the orders of the day are called. I do not have to tell you, sir, or the house, of my 25 years' interest in this matter of the abolition of capital punishment. There was in the early days of the session a two-day debate, and the understanding was given by the Prime Minister that a third day would be made available. This matter is of such importance that I feel a third day of debate on a private member's bill, which I seconded, should not be held in the dying days of this session.

I believe, sir, that we had a very good discussion for two days. If my information is correct I believe that, at the conclusion of the second day of debate, there were in the neighbourhood of 37 members who still wanted to speak on this issue. I do not know quite how to put what I have in mind, but having debated the subject for two days and it now being near the end of this session, in view of my 28-year fight in parliament both in British Columbia and here against capital punishment, I would hate to see a hasty decision made in this house. It is not so much a matter of seeing whether the bill introduced by the hon. member for York-Scarborough, which I seconded, would be defeated, but it is a matter which requires a quiescent, sensible and reasonable decision.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, much as it may break my heart, because I want to see my objective reached I am afraid, sir, it would not be reached if a decision were taken by the House of Commons to sit an extra day at this point in the session.

Therefore, because I believe in the objective and not in expediency, I hope the mover and seconder of this motion will agree with me that perhaps greater progress will be made toward our objective by agreeing now that a further day be not taken this session, because I believe from what I heard from the Prime Minister that consideration is being given by the government to the entire question of capital punishment and no objections have been raised to the matter being reinitiated at the next session of this House of Commons.

So, sir, on that basis I believe those of us who believe in the abolition of capital punishment might have our objective set back if at this time there were a further debate. Therefore, sir-and I am only speaking personally-I say I will accept the idea that there shall not be a further debate on capital punishment at this session. But it will be raised at the next session.

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?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

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PC

Frank Charles McGee

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Frank McGee (York-Scarborough):

Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to withhold my remarks if somebody wishes to make some contribution from the ranks of the official opposition, but barring that I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the members of the house, to the government and to those who co-operated in making an unprecedented two days available for the debate on the bill which I had the privilege of introducing.

The hon. member for Vancouver East and others who have already made their contribution to this debate are in a curious position. I am more concerned with the people who expressed a desire to speak, who were next in line and further down the list, than in those who have already spoken. However, I would be less than honest if I did not say to the house that most of the members- I am speaking purely from memory here-[DOT] who indicated a desire to speak in addition to those who have already spoken have shown an increasing reluctance to resume the debate and to insist on accepting the undertaking given to the house by the Prime Minister earlier.

If I were to interpret the wish of the house in this respect, I would judge the feeling of this chamber to be that the debate be not continued this session but that we reinitiate it at the beginning of the next session of parliament.

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PC

Edwin William Brunsden

Progressive Conservative

Mr. E. W. Brunsden (Medicine Hat):

Mr. Speaker, as one who participated in the second day's debate on capital punishment some months ago, I feel there is such a thing as consistency. I also feel that the Canadian public will be very critical of any decision made by this house to break its own word. The public generally anticipate this additional day of debate. They anticipate a decision by this house. It has been indicated in a number of ways that this has become one of the foremost questions in Canada. My own personal feeling and my own stand on this question is that we should take the additional day now.

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PC

Gage Workman Montgomery

Progressive Conservative

Mr. G. W. Montgomery (Vicforia-Carleton):

Mr. Speaker, like many others I participated in this debate on the second day. It is not because I have said what I wanted to say that I would like to see the debate cut off now, but at this late period in the session I do not believe it is a subject which will hold a lot of members here.

I feel that there are many members who may wish to express views on this bill, either for or against the retention of capital punishment. I think it would be much better to follow the suggestion of the hon. member for Vancouver East (Mr. Winch) and not

have that debate this session but have the matter brought up again next session.

I cannot agree with the hon. member across the aisle who says that he feels the public expects us to make a decision on this matter now. Mr. Speaker, I am telling you and hon. members here that there are strong opinions both ways, and I believe it is a matter which could very easily be laid over and members could get the feeling of their constituents during the recess. It might cause some to change their minds, but at least it can be kept a live subject.

I would be against continuing the debate this session.

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CCF

Harold Edward Winch

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Winch:

Mr. Speaker, I have been informed by a member of the government that he thought I said I had spent 28 years fighting against abolition. I cannot understand my saying that, so may I say right now that I have spent 28 years in a fight to abolish capital punishment.

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PC

John Douglas Campbell MacLean

Progressive Conservative

Mr. John MacLean (Winnipeg North Centre):

Mr. Speaker, I am one of those who would like to participate in a third day of debate on this question. However, at this point of the session I think the issue simply revolves around two points.

One is that at this point in the session there are many members who are unavoidably absent who would like to participate in a third day of debate, and therefore it would not be fair to them to hold a third day's debate at this time. The second point is that if we are going to have a third day of debate, perhaps the house would then want the issue to come to a vote. There again, with many members unavoidably absent, a vote taken on the question at this time in the session would not, to my mind, have any great significance.

For these reasons, Mr. Speaker, I would like to see the third day adjourned and the debate reconvened at the next session.

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PC

Frederick Johnstone (Jack) Bigg

Progressive Conservative

Mr. F. J. Bigg (Athabasca):

Mr. Speaker, something has been going on this whole session which I think is relevant to this particular point here, and it is the right of private members to introduce and speak on bills in this house. We have had a cynical demonstration of the ignoring of such rights of private members by a certain group in this house; the filibuster on divorce bills, to be specific.

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PC

Daniel Roland Michener (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Speaker:

Order. The hon. member is not speaking to the specific question.

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PC

Frederick Johnstone (Jack) Bigg

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Bigg:

The specific question, sir, is whether or not we stay and finish the debate on capital punishment. May I say that the hon. member for Vancouver East is not the

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Business of the House

only one interested in the abolition of capital punishment. This bill was introduced by the hon. member for York-Scarborough some time ago. A good many of us have not spoken on this subject yet. I feel that our time as private members has been cynically abused. I should like to speak on this bill myself, and I find it may be impossible for me to be here. This is also true of some hon. members of the group in question.

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CCF

Harold Edward Winch

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Winch:

May I say I will be here until the house closes.

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?

An hon. Member:

Who cares?

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August 4, 1960