July 18, 1946 (20th Parliament, 2nd Session)


James Horace King (Speaker of the Senate)



The question of privilege raised yesterday by the hon. member for Peterborough West (Mr. Fraser) is very important as it bears upon one of the main privileges of members of parliament, namely the right to seek information on matters of administration for which the government is responsible to the House of Commons.

The hon. member sent in for the order paper a series of questions inquiring as to the number of motorcycles declared surplus by the army and air departments and asking how many of these vehicles had been disposed of through War Assets Corporation. The officer of the house whose duty it is to see that such questions are in order pointed out to the hon. member that the information sought could be obtained from the special committee on war expenditures and economies which was appointed on March 22 by the following resolution:
That a select committee be appointed to- examine the expenditure defrayed out of moneys provided by parliament for national defence and demobilization, and for other services directly connected with the war, including the disposal of surplus war assets, and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the execution of the policy decided by the government may be effected therein . . .
It seems, therefore, that the committee is the proper authority from which the information should be sought in connection with expenditures for defence, demobilization, and -please note-"for other services directly connected with the war, including the disposal of surplus war assets." The hon. member's questions come within the purview of the committee's powers. It is a well known principle in parliamentary procedure that the house cannot deal with matters referred to committees until those committtees have completed their work and reported to the house. I see in "May's Parliamentary Practice," 14th edition, recently published, the following as a type of question enumerated as being out of order:
Dealing with matters referred to a royal commission or with matters before a parliamentary committee or with matters within the juris-[DOT]diction of the chairman of a select committee or the authorities of the house. No question can be asked regarding proceedings in a committee which have not been placed before the house by a report from the committee.
Moreover the chairman of this committee on war expenditures and economies, the senior member for Halifax (Mr. Isnor) has invited all the members of the house to ask questions dealing with matters referred to the committee. On March 26, as reported in the minutes of the proceedings of that committee, he said that the hon. member for Eglinton (Mr. Fleming) had asked to appear before the committee and follow up a question placed on the order paper; and he added:
You are all familiar as to the answer given by the Minister of Reconstruction (Mr. Howe) yesterday, that Mr. Fleming would have the opportunity of asking the question before this committee. I have given this matter some thought, and I am just offering this to you as a suggestion, not* as a ruling. I am going to

Privilege-Mr. Fraser
suggest to you that you give Mr. Fleming an opportunity at once to place his questions on file here with a view to having them answered, but in the future I ain going to suggest that other members of parliament who are not members of this committee should pass along their questions either to the chairman or to another member whom they may select to place them before the committee. I think that in fairness to the members of this particular committee, Mr. Fleming arid others should follow that suggestion so as to give our own members an equal opportunity to have questions answered which they have in mind and have had in mind for some time. There are some questions that Mr. Probe. Mr. Stewart and Mr. Shaw had before the committee last year that have not as yet been dealt with. I feel in fairness to them that my suggestion should be followed. Is it your pleasure that we hear Mr. Fleming to-day with that understanding as to future members?"
The motion was carried; the hon. member for Eglinton thanked the chairman and submitted a series of questions. This was good parliamentary practice. A matter cannot be before a committee and before the house at the same time; and the proceedings of a committee should not be interfered with by answers to questions and reports laid on the table of the house.
In disallowing for the time being the hon. member's questions, I fully realize that his right to seek information is unimpeachable, but I am merely pointing out to him that he is following the wrong procedure. It is his privilege to file his questions with the chairman of the war expenditures and economies committee. I would therefore ask the hon. member for Peterborough West to try the committee, and if he does not succeed there, he will be free to adopt any course which will be open to him under the rules of the house.

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