Right Hon. J. G. Diefenbaker (Prime Minister):
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Pearson) asked me yesterday whether I would have a word to say with reference to the commonwealth prime ministers' conference and the Canadian representation at that meeting. I would advise that I shall be leaving this afternoon and, as already announced, I shall visit Belfast on the way at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. On the 5th and 6th of March I shall be in Dublin as a guest of the Irish government for discussions with the Prime Minister of Ireland, Mr. Lemass.
I can assure hon. members that I shall take with me the warm wishes of this house and of Canadians generally, and I shall pay tribute to those of Irish blood who have made so great a contribution to Canada.
Sir, in regard to the prime ministers' meeting, it will commence, as hon. members know, on March 8 and continue until March 16. I shall be accompanied by the Secretary of State, and next week the Minister of Justice will also proceed to London in connection with the meetings.
These meetings of prime ministers are indispensable in commonwealth affairs. They exemplify the process of consultation which lies at the heart of the commonwealth relationship. They represent and are a recurrent symbol of the partnership and diversity of the commonwealth. They provide each national leader with an opportunity to understand the problems and the hopes of the other member nations.
As the Leader of the Opposition knows from personal experience, there is a candour in these meetings which ensures that they are profitable for all who participate. In the past 15 years since the war the commonwealth
has undergone a transformation in membership which has not only increased its usefulness and its opportunities in world affairs, but which has at the same time brought about new complexities and problems into the association.
This meeting of prime ministers will face problems of far-reaching significance, the most conspicuous of these being the continued membership of South Africa. I take it that in general the views of the parties in the house were set out in detail last March and April during the discussions that took place here. Since then the leader of the C.C.F. has given the views of his party. I take it that the Leader of the Opposition holds, because he has said nothing to the contrary, much the same views that he expressed during the debates nine or ten months ago. However, if there is any alteration in that viewpoint I would welcome hearing the hon. gentleman express his views in this regard at this time.
The essence of these meetings is that there shall be serious discussion without predetermined positions being taken. I can only express my conviction that the prime ministers will be inspired by a determination that in what they do the commonwealth will be preserved and strengthened and will be made an association even more effective as a vehicle of international partnership than ever before.
We sometimes fail to realize the tremendous diversity of opinion because of geography, size, culture, race and colour that is convened in these conferences. No one attending them can but have a greater knowledge of the problems faced everywhere in the world because of these diversities. Indeed I repeat what I have said on other occasions, that this body, transcending as it does the boundaries that ordinarily separate peoples of various races and colours, has a message for all mankind.
It is a practice in these meetings that the prime ministers should discuss the most urgent international issues of the day. I expect that there will be a very full review of the Congo situation and that in Laos, which are of concern to nations everywhere. Then there is the question of disarmament, which demands the attention of peoples everywhere. In this connection I shall naturally be bringing before the meeting the strong conviction of the Canadian government that there should be no relaxation- of the effort to achieve
Commonwealth Conference progress in disarmament, and will emphasize, as the Secretary of State for External Affairs has done so effectively, that the middle and smaller nations have a definitive role to play in this process, a role which cannot be discharged by the greater powers by themselves.
There will be before the conference the question of the admission of Sierra Leone. There will be an application for membership from the republic of Cyprus. Beyond that I know the house would not expect me to go. However, immediately on my return I will report the progress made at the conference and, in general, outline and discuss the attitudes taken by the conference as a whole without, of course, revealing the discussions which in the interest of frankness are regarded as confidential.
Subtopic: STATEMENT ON AGENDA AND CANADIAN PERSONNEL